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Mackel Peterkin, now 20, who grew up in housing projects in Toronto's notorious Jane-Finch area, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of his friend Allen Benn.

Mackel Peterkin had lived so long suspended between condemnation and redemption that the wait had become almost normal.

Sitting outside Toronto's main criminal courthouse under a punishing sun, the brawny, square-jawed 20-year-old complained of the heat but made no attempt to move. It felt as if the afternoon would carry on forever.

For the anxious relatives sitting beside him, eternal uncertainty seemed preferable to the likely alternative - life behind bars.

It had been two years since Mr. Peterkin was arrested for allegedly planning and carrying out the execution of his friend Allen Benn. Before that, he had been seen as one of the rare kids in his rough neighbourhood who would avoid this kind of trap.

He had grown up poor, but he had been the beneficiary of countless interventions - from government programs to private-sector philanthropy - aimed at shepherding him safely to adulthood. He wasn't a gangster; he was a decent kid. And yet he was facing 25 years to life for first-degree murder.

The jury had been deliberating for three days. In 2008, 93 per cent of homicide trials in Ontario ended with guilty verdicts.

But Mr. Peterkin was confident in spite of the odds.

"If they convict me, they have to let 10 men out of jail," he liked to say, referring to the legal principle that says it's better that 10 guilty men go free than that one innocent man be imprisoned.

In the slow stillness of the afternoon, he wrestled his arms free from his dress shirt and let it drape around his neck like a scarf. With his black pants covering black Nike Air Force Ones, he was willing to bend only so far to the formality of the court.

Then his mother's cellphone rang. It was their lawyer. The jury was coming back with a verdict. His mom grabbed him around the waist, hugging him tightly. He tried to push her aside as he gulped for words.

"Mom, it's okay, I'm coming home," he said, trying to sound brave. He strode ahead alone.

When the jurors entered the courtroom that final time, they didn't so much as glance at Mr. Peterkin, nor did they acknowledge his best friend and co-accused, Shaun Blake.

In the back row, a lawyer whispered, "They won't look at the accused. They're done. They're going down."

'A mysterious kid'

Mackel Peterkin was born on a rainy night in Scarborough in the fall of 1988. His mother's fifth child, he entered the world with six fingers on each hand. His mother asked that the two additional pinkie fingers be cut away so he wouldn't be made fun of at school.

"I said, 'This is a mysterious kid. He's a different kind,'" said his mother, Mazeline Allen.

She had grown up in Jamaica and at 14 came to Canada, where she was reunited with a mother and father she had never known. The reunion didn't go well. She didn't get along with her mom and her dad died of a stroke at 42.

Her grandmother had told her that in Canada the streets were lined with money - all you had to do was bend down to pick it up. But for Ms. Allen, Canada was a cold and lonely place, and she struggled, finding work here and there in construction. She would eventually have nine children with six different men.

She now lives in public housing in Toronto's suburban northwest at Jane Street and Finch Avenue, an area known as one of Canada's most violent neighbourhoods.

Her living-room walls are decorated with a dozen portraits of Egyptian emperor Haile Selassie, the Rastafarian king.

Ms. Allen looked fondly at a photo of Mackel in kindergarten, dressed in a red-and-black-striped cardigan. "They thought he was the child who couldn't speak. They would ask me, 'Is he dumb?' I'd say no, that's just Mackel."

His report card from that year said he was steadily gaining self-confidence. He liked math, puzzles, painting and cut-and-paste, and he wanted to be an astronaut. But his absence on nearly 20 per cent of school days (10 per cent is considered high) foretold a more difficult future.

Growing up in the Palisades apartment towers, Mr. Peterkin befriended a local kid named Shaun Blake with a life story very similar to his own. I met the two boys when I was reporting on the community in the summer of 2006. At the time, the city was gripped by the cascading toll of young, black homicide victims, a pattern that, with ebbs and flows, continues to play out today.

Mr. Peterkin and Mr. Blake belonged to the group of teenagers that hung around the San Romanoway Revitalization Association; they called it the Centre. They were acutely aware that, as young black men, they were perceived as a threat to peace and order. It was hard to ignore: When prime minister Paul Martin promised a major crackdown on gangs and guns in 2005, he didn't just come to their neighbourhood - he came to their building.

One evening at the Centre, a counsellor asked the boys to introduce themselves and describe their ambitions. The typical exchange went something like, "My name's Lefty. I live in Palisades, my favourite subject is science, I'm going to play in the NBA ... and I'm deadly." Everyone would crack up.

Mr. Peterkin, though, was more mature. While his friends reacted aggressively to any perceived slight, he was a calming presence. His academic struggles placed him two years behind his age cohort, but that was not unusual in the group. When it was his turn to talk about his ambitions, he had scaled back considerably from dreams of space travel: He said he wanted to operate the jackhammer on a construction crew.

Everyone laughed. The counsellor scolded him and asked what he really wanted to do. He replied, somewhat hurt, that he was telling the truth.

For teenage boys in that area, gangs are one of life's central pillars. The group at the Palisades considered themselves Bloods. They wore the red clothing and joked around with their gang signs, but their crimes were of the theft-from-a-locker or schoolyard-fight variety, not those of gun-toting thugs.

At the time, I thought these were the kids you'd never hear about, clearly benefiting from the programs that aim to keep children from at-risk neighbourhoods out of trouble.

Every year, millions of dollars are spent on scholastic, athletic, vocational and crime-prevention programs for the hundreds of kids in the neighbourhood. At the Centre alone, they received more than $500,000 last year from donors ranging from Public Safety Canada, the City of Toronto, the Attorney-General's Ministry, the Royal Bank and the United Way.

Mr. Peterkin had participated in at least six funded programs before his 18th birthday, including the Boys and Girls Club, Y-Connect, Rising Stars, Straight Talk, Hoop to Hope and Raptor Ball.

One of his mentors was Benjamin Osei, who often led the programs. He said Mr. Peterkin "didn't have any gangster nature about him."

But there was no getting around the fact that he and his friends came from poor families, did badly in school and had no sense of what to do with their lives. They believed the world was racist and that the odds were stacked against them from birth.

The temptation to make easy money serving the daily procession of crack and dope buyers was ever present, as was the possibility of being recruited by the serious, grown-up gangs.

Mr. Osei said they were like starfish on the beach. You could save a few by throwing them back in the ocean, but every wave brought dozens more.

Joker's last hand

On April 2, 2007, 20-year-old Allen Benn was sitting down to dinner with his family in the Grassways housing complex. His little sister didn't like the food, so Mr. Benn offered to go across the street to get some takeout chicken.

Mr. Benn, whose family came to Jane-Finch from Ghana when he was a child, hung around with the group from Palisades even though he lived on the south side of Finch Avenue. Known as Joker for his sense of humour, he had dropped out of school, but he was trying to turn his life around - he was washing dishes at a restaurant and volunteering at the Centre.

Thirteen minutes after leaving his apartment, Mr. Benn lay dying on the pavement. When paramedics arrived, he was struggling to breathe and rolling slightly from side to side. He had been stabbed five times and his small bowel was spilling out of a gash in his stomach.

The pathologist concluded that the wound that killed him sliced through his heart and liver, causing massive internal bleeding.

'Stop snitching'

When Detective Sergeant Frank Skubic arrived at the homicide scene, he faced a problem endemic to criminal investigations in certain parts of Toronto.

It's a kind of parallel universe where the rule of law doesn't mean what it does elsewhere, and where citizens don't believe that the police can deliver on the promise to protect them.

As Det. Sgt. Skubic explained in court, every witness he found was the product of diligent door knocking, persuasion and cajoling. No one came forward offering information.

The "stop-snitching" campaign has been so effective in Toronto's poorest neighbourhoods that it is now very difficult to persuade anyone to help a police investigation. Many people fear that they will be killed by gangs. Some also feel that the police are a kind of army of occupation who shouldn't get their co-operation.

The slogan "stop snitching" gained cultural traction via hip-hop songs and a popular line of clothing that the mayor of Boston once tried to ban from stores. It's common to see teenagers in Jane-Finch wearing the T-shirts or having a stop-snitching logo on their MySpace or Facebook profiles.

I once saw two youth workers at the Centre, the very people whose job it was to set an example, explaining to an 11-year-old boy who had tattled on a classmate that if he continued to snitch, he would be hated.

As one gang expert testified in this case, in Jane-Finch "no snitching" means you don't talk to anyone, ever, about anything - because you're only ever a phone call away from being killed.

The Grassways public-housing complex, where the killing took place, is a labyrinth of interconnected low-rise buildings. It's known locally as Connections, partly for its shape and partly because it's a place to connect with a drug dealer.

The Crown's theory was that Mackel Peterkin and Shaun Blake conspired to kill Allen Benn with two 17-year-old youths who are being tried later this year in a separate proceeding.

Their case revolved almost entirely around surveillance video from the scene. With more than 50 video cameras throughout the complex keeping silent watch over comings and goings, the Grassways is a kind of surveillance fishbowl.

The video showed Mr. Blake and two youths, including one we'll call Jerome, hanging around the housing complex together about three hours before Mr. Benn was killed. Mr. Peterkin joined them just 20 minutes before the attack.

Mr. Benn returned from the restaurant at 4:50 p.m. and encountered Jerome. They spoke for a moment and then Mr. Benn followed Jerome toward a stairwell door out of camera view. Mr. Blake and Mr. Peterkin had disappeared in the same spot a few minutes earlier.

At 4:55 p.m., after being off-camera for four minutes, Mr. Benn emerged from the stairwell and fell to the ground. Mr. Blake, Mr. Peterkin and Jerome were not seen on camera again.

The police dragged Mr. Peterkin from his bed and arrested him three weeks later, in May, 2007. Mr. Blake was arrested at the same time by an emergency task force a few blocks south.

'No comment'

They were interviewed that evening by Det. Sgt. Skubic and his partner, Det. Sgt. Terry Wark. Mr. Blake was shown the surveillance videotape, but he denied that he was on it. Asked if he could identify his friend Jerome, Mr. Blake said he didn't know him.

Det. Sgt. Skubic, a genial, hulking man, patiently skewered the lie. He rhymed off the places they might find evidence - on shoes, on clothing. Mr. Blake rocked slowly back and forth in his chair, eyes cast downward.

Det. Sgt. Skubic's voice softened and he leaned in closer, offering a way out. "It takes a man to stand up and say, 'We didn't mean for it to happen, but it happened.' … Can you give us an explanation?"

A long silence followed. Mr. Blake, his arms tightly folded, mumbled, "Not true," and then, "No comment."

When the police interviewed Mr. Peterkin, he described his movements on the day Mr. Benn was killed. After school, he went to the Centre at Palisades, as he did every day, but couldn't go in because its director, Stephnie Payne, had temporarily banned the older boys to discipline them. Then, he said, he went to his sister's house. But the video showed he actually went to the Grassways.

"Did you stab this man to death?" Det. Sgt. Skubic asked.

"No," Mr. Peterkin replied.

"But you know who did?"


Mr. Peterkin said Mr. Benn had problems with "some Crip guys."

"It wasn't the Crips who killed him, because we got the videotape," the officer said. "Crips don't wear red."

At the end of the questioning, Mr. Peterkin had tears in his eyes.

Both Mr. Blake and Mr. Peterkin lied consistently to police. Both said they weren't at the scene of the homicide, and the video clearly showed they were. Both said they didn't know anyone on the video, and they clearly did.

In court, the Crown argued that their lies were evidence of guilt, in particular Mr. Peterkin's feeble attempt to point the police at other suspects.

Mr. Peterkin's mother was livid. "Let me explain something to you: We live in Gangster City. If you talk to the cops, you get killed, simple as that," she said. "The police know that. These boys aren't going to say who did it."

Twists of fate

In fact, though, the Crown's whole case revolved around the no-snitching rule. Their theory was that Allen Benn was killed for snitching on a fellow Blood. A week earlier, Mr. Benn's friend had been robbed. Word on the street was that Mr. Benn had ratted out the robbers. It wasn't true, but, as one lawyer said, the presumption of innocence doesn't apply in the Grassways.

Bizarrely enough, the disastrous chain of events began five months earlier with a stroke of good fortune for Mr. Benn's friend Richie Poku: He won $1.1-million in the lottery. Mr. Poku moved to Brampton, bought a Mercedes and started wearing expensive clothes and jewellery. But his girlfriend still had family in Jane-Finch and one night visited her mother in the Grassways.

When Mr. Poku arrived to pick her up, he was stripped of his pants, shoes, necklace and car keys. His girlfriend, Bettina Marfo, concluded that the robbers were Jerome and another gang member named Kanadian. She called Kanadian's mother, who refused to believe that her son committed the robbery. In an attempt to bolster her accusation, Ms. Marfo said, "Even Allen warned Richie to be careful." According to the Crown, those words sealed his fate.

Mr. Benn heard about that conversation days before he was killed. Panicked, he asked Ms. Marfo to change her story, to say it was a different Allen who warned her. "Those people don't play around with stuff like that. They call it snitching and you can get killed for it."

Mr. Benn had never mentioned anyone by name. Nor did he have any information about a plan to rob Mr. Poku.

"All Allen Benn did was say, 'Your boyfriend should be a little smarter about showing up in the Grassways with gold dripping off his body in a fancy car,'" said the judge, Mr. Justice David McCombs. "That's just something that any rational person would say to you. ... This boy died for nothing. He didn't break any code of any kind."

Behind bars

The two boys spent nearly a year in prison. During their time at the Maplehurst jail, Mr. Blake was angry and constantly fighting. He was kept in solitary confinement for long stretches, and in one altercation a corrections officer smashed his head against a wall repeatedly, leaving him with a two-inch forehead scar.

Mr. Peterkin fared better. He knew someone on the inside who smoothed his transition and introduced him to people. Eventually he became one of the bosses on his range.

After several months, tests on their clothing came back from the forensics lab. There was very little there. One of Mr. Blake's shoes couldn't be ruled out as a match for a footprint at the crime scene, but it was a generic print from a very popular shoe (the judge ruled it inadmissible at trial).

Since the case against them was circumstantial, and neither had a criminal record, they were granted bail halfway through 2008.

Throughout the ordeal, the two boys steadfastly refused to say anything that would put them in the clear, if it meant putting others in jeopardy.

One day over lunch during the trial, Mr. Peterkin said that he had had an alibi all along: He was at his friend's apartment, just down the hall from the stairwell where Mr. Benn was attacked. The problem was that his friend, Brandon Miller, didn't corroborate his story when questioned by police.

"One thing that pisses me off, that one person didn't tell the truth, and that's Brandon Miller, because he could've got me out of all this. But I understand why he didn't. He didn't want to get himself involved," Mr. Peterkin said. "I'd probably do the same thing."

There were at least half a dozen other people who could have put him in the clear, he added, but none of them would speak up either.

As the trial wore on, it became increasingly evident that the Crown's view was that Jerome likely committed the murder, assisted by others who may have held Mr. Benn while he was stabbed or blocked him from escaping.

The Crown had a witness who said she saw in a brief glance a group of teenagers moving in a violent swirl in the area of the stairwell, but she couldn't identify any of them.

The pathologist, who was instructed to look for evidence of an assault on Mr. Benn, couldn't find any bruising consistent with someone being held or beaten. In fact, defensive wounds on his hands showed that they were free when he was attacked.

In conversation, Mr. Peterkin denied ever seeing what happened to Mr. Benn, but he said that even if he had been there, he wouldn't have intervened.

"People kill people sometimes. You can't necessarily stop it. I don't think I'd want to try. If I did, you might end up with two people dead," he said. "It's only white people that think they can be the hero."

Bye-bye blackbird

It's common now, in the age of Barack Obama, to talk of a post-racial society. But for Mr. Peterkin and Mr. Blake, race was still central to their world view and one of their favourite topics of conversation.

Mr. Blake, out of the blue one day, asked me how he could learn to talk to white girls. "I've never talked to a white girl. Can you believe that? You've got to show me how. … You can talk to any girl. You can be like, 'How's your hot chocolate? Is that a nice hot chocolate?' If we said that to a white girl, she'd get all scared. It couldn't happen."

While awaiting the verdict, the men and their families spent a tense half-hour feeding the birds outside the Eaton Centre. Four black birds were gathered around Mr. Peterkin's niece as she tossed French fries in their direction. But each time a white bird would swoop in and steal the fry before any of the black birds could eat it.

No matter how close the fry was to the black bird, the white bird's size, speed and strength stole the fry every time. The group was more and more amazed with each fry thrown in the ring.

"Look at the white guy, he's just eating everything. He won't let the black guys even get a piece," Mr. Peterkin said.

As he walked back to court, he marvelled, "That's a life lesson right there," he said. "No matter how much of a chance you give the black guy, the white guy always gets more. He gets to eat no matter what. Just like real life."

The accused and their families were convinced that the trial would be affected by their race. During one break in testimony, Ms. Allen and Ms. Blake were talking about how dangerous it would be for their sons to return to the neighbourhood if they were acquitted. They weren't afraid of Mr. Benn's family - they were afraid of the police. They were adamant that the police would try to injure or kill them. I said I thought it was impossible.

"You're so naive," Ms. Allen said.

"You're too much public," Mr. Blake said.

This was a phrase he often used to describe me. I asked what it meant.

"You're too much a Canadian citizen," he said. Mr. Blake had spent just one week of his life outside Ontario and 12 years in Toronto public schools, yet did not consider himself part of society.

His mother still hoped that something good could come of the trial for her son: "When you come from where we do - well, they call it the ghetto - you don't know what you can be in life," she said. "Now that he's been through this, he's been socializing with higher people, people like lawyers, and he's starting to see what he really can do himself.

"When he gets off, and he's innocent, I don't want him to even come visit me where I'm living, not even to say hi. I want him to get out, get away, get into some kind of college program," she said.

Mr. Blake said he and his girlfriend, Kamesha, who was five months pregnant, were going to move somewhere outside the city. They hoped that he would get a job in construction and complete his high-school diploma. He and Kamesha, who was in school and working at a call centre, had been together nearly five years.

Mr. Peterkin's girlfriend, Rhoda, often skipped school to go to the trial against his wishes. He was trying to convince her that they were no longer a couple.

They had started dating shortly before his arrest. She stood by him while he was in jail, took his phone calls and visited. She even moved into his mother's home. But Mr. Peterkin told her at the end of the trial that what they had was just "jail love."

"But you told me - you said the words," she said.

"You don't know about jail love? Of course the guy is going to say, 'I love you.' He's surrounded by [dozens]of guys. When you're in jail, you just want to get as much love as you can."

Bad bargains

Shortly after the trial began, the Crown offered Mr. Peterkin a deal: He could plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a sentence of nine years, 81/2 to be served in the penitentiary.

That was considerably better than life in prison, but it didn't appeal to him or his lawyer. They decided to take their chances with the jury.

No such deal was offered to Mr. Blake. His lawyers believed that he was in a much more precarious situation. Unlike Mr. Peterkin, Mr. Blake had hung around with Jerome, the person with the most powerful motive to kill Mr. Benn, for three hours before the attack. He was also on video pointing in the direction of Mr. Benn, evidence the Crown argued was part of a "quasi-military operation" to kill a suspected snitch.

Once the Crown closed its case, Mr. Blake's lawyers discussed strategy with their client.

"Shaun has a big decision to make," said one of them, Daniel Brown. "He has to decide whether to take the stand and point the finger at some pretty dangerous people. I don't know. He's facing 25 years, but we may not need to put him up there."

Mr. Blake came away from their meeting looking depressed, and slammed his headphones over his ears as he walked away.

He said there was no way he was going to testify, even if it meant jeopardizing his shot at freedom. He walked away alone, leaving his grandmother wondering what he was thinking.

"Shaun didn't sleep all night," she said. "Yesterday, he just sat with his chin in his hands looking so worried, but he didn't want to talk about it."

Neither Mr. Blake nor Mr. Peterkin called any evidence in their defence. It was a risk. Their lawyers would have to convince the jury that the Crown hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Day of judgment

Regina v. Peterkin and Blake was to be Judge McCombs's last case. A mountainous figure with a craggy face and wings of snowy hair encircling a bald peak, he often expressed his irritation by letting out a long, pained exhale of breath. As the trial wore on, he seemed to grow more concerned about its direction.

"I've been a judge for 17 years. This is a disturbing case for me," he said in the trial's last week, once the jury had been excused for the day. "The reaction [of the jury]in these gangs cases is a worry. People are fed up to their teeth with gang violence. And we therefore have to guard against verdicts that are unsupported by the evidence. Nobody wants to have as his or her legacy a wrongful conviction."

The judge's most important task was to instruct the jury on how they should reach a verdict. He cautioned them to pay little heed to the defendants' lies to police, and warned them about the unreliability of the eyewitness evidence offered by the Crown.

Almost as soon as he had finished and the jury had been sequestered, the prosecutor leaped to his feet with a list of objections. The judge had eviscerated his evidence, he said, leaving him with nothing.

"Surely you don't want this jury to convict them purely on speculation?" the judge replied.

Outside court, the wait for a verdict began. The families sat together, praying for the best.

"Jail sucks," said Mr. Peterkin, contemplating a future in the penitentiary at Joyceville, Ont. - a boring routine of watching daytime talk shows, sports highlights and music videos. "You get frustrated. What's the word they use for people in jail - rehabilitation? That doesn't work. People who go to jail get mad and frustrated with the world, so when they come out, they're worse. How can you rehabilitate someone over 25 years? That's ridiculous.

"Sometimes I think about my situation and I get mad. But I just think I'm not going. Not think - I know. I know I'm not going. I'll be shocked. Really shocked."

As he waited, he played Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on a cellphone, faltering as he read the questions aloud.

Mr. Peterkin recalled all the programs he had taken part in as teenager, all the summer jobs designed to set him on a path to anywhere but here: youth programs, basketball leagues, summer camps. The free meals, the adult counsel, the city's concern for the disadvantaged children of Jane-Finch.

In an attempt to use what little power they had, Mr. Peterkin and his friends used to say that if the Centre didn't get a new basketball hoop, well, they might just turn to crime. They got the new hoop, and a new paved court as well.

Generous corporations had given them tickets to movies and sports events, tickets Mr. Peterkin often scalped outside the stadium for a measly few dollars. He had been given a summer job cleaning the garbage rooms and stairwells of the towers. He had run the recording studio donated to the Centre.

All these steps were designed to give Mr. Peterkin a shot. All these steps hadn't kept him from being sucked into a mess that put him on trial for his friend's murder.

The wait for a verdict dragged on through the first day and then the second.

By Friday afternoon, the lawyers were starting to worry about a hung jury, which would mean having to do it all over again. The call finally came as they sat in the late-afternoon sun.

The jury would deliver its verdict in 10 minutes.

Mr. Peterkin said he could barely hear over the pounding of his own heart when he re-entered the courtroom that final time. His lawyer placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and whispered, "If it doesn't go your way, we'll appeal."

A phalanx of sheriff's deputies stood ready to take the accused into custody. The boys' mothers and sisters held tightly to one another, some of them reciting prayers.

Finally, Juror No. 6 rose to utter the words that would shape the course of their lives.

It was a unanimous verdict of not guilty on all counts for both Mr. Peterkin and Mr. Blake.

Mr. Peterkin's mother lifted her arms to the ceiling in a prayer of gratitude. She hugged Mr. Blake's mother, who was crying.

"Thank you Jesus Christ," she said.

"I'm so happy," a tearful Mr. Blake said. "Mackel, we're free, we're free."

Mr. Peterkin shook his lawyer's hand. There were tears welling in his eyes, but, in the sea of joyful noise, he was quiet.

"The justice system worked," he said.

Accident and destiny

During the trial, I asked Mr. Blake and Mr. Peterkin if they wished they had never gone to the Grassways that day. I wondered how they could reconcile wasting two years of their lives for the sake of the no-snitching code.

Mr. Peterkin said that so many things that day put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the Centre hadn't been locked, he never would have gone to the Grassways. If his friend Jesse hadn't been getting a haircut, he would have been at Jesse's apartment.

"Instead I went to Connections and when I got there they had locked Shaun inside this little old laundry room - it's tiny and locks from the outside - so he was banging to get out. If I had just left him in there for a while longer, maybe none of this would've happened. But we went outside."

"And then?" I asked.

"And then," he replied.

For his part, Mr. Blake shrugged his shoulders. "Some people say your life is written before you're born," he said. "I believe that."

Mr. Osei, the community worker who has known them since they were children, said Mr. Peterkin was always withdrawn - a follower, not a leader.

Jerome, however, was a different case. A refugee from Sierra Leone, he came to Canada having seen horrors that few could imagine.

His cousin, Alpha, who also belongs to the Palisades crew, recalled seeing guns held to the head of his relatives during the civil war, people having their hands chopped off, and the bellies of pregnant women carved open. He was still haunted by those images and said he knew Jerome was too.

The trial ended on a Friday afternoon in late June. This summer, Mr. Peterkin has been trying to keep a low profile, but he has returned to Jane and Finch and made contact with some of his old friends. It will never be the same, he said - the group will forever be divided by Mr. Benn's death. He has not yet followed through on his plans to find a job in construction.

What frustrated Mr. Osei most was that all of the people involved had at some point sat down at his table to ask for his help. They had all been part of the same group; they'd grown up together.

"It isn't outsiders doing this. They're doing it to themselves," he said. "It's one friend against another."