Jurors are deliberating the fate of two men accused in the shooting death of an innocent bystander during a dispute outside a Toronto strip club two years ago.
Edward Paredes, 24, and Awet Zekarias, 25, are charged with the second-degree murder of John O'Keefe, 42. He was killed instantly by a bullet to the head in the early hours of Jan. 12, 2008, as he walked along Yonge Street near the Brass Rail tavern.
Court has heard Mr. O'Keefe stepped unwittingly into a sidewalk altercation between the two accused and bouncers who had just ejected them from the strip club. The Crown alleges Mr. Paredes, at the repeated urging of his friend Mr. Zekarias, fired once at the bouncers, but instead hit Mr. O'Keefe.
Mr. Paredes has admitted to firing the fatal shot, but claims he did so only to scare the bouncers. During the seven-week trial, he testified that he deliberately aimed away from them, and did not see Mr. O'Keefe when he pulled the trigger.
The gunman tried to plead guilty to manslaughter at the outset of the trial, but the Crown refused the plea. Prosecutor Hank Goody argued Mr. Paredes meant to kill one or more of the bouncers, and that by law, that lethal intent transferred to Mr. O'Keefe when the bouncers jumped clear and the bystander stepped into the bullet's path.
Court heard the two men went to the Brass Rail with friends to celebrate Mr. Zekarias's birthday, but were ejected for Mr. Paredes's misbehaviour. Witnesses said the two protested their ejection inside, and after they were roughly thrown outside, Mr. Zekarias exhorted Mr. Paredes to pull out his handgun, which he had legally obtained but illegally carried with him in a waist holster that night, and fire at the bouncers.
Mr. Paredes's lawyer, Robert Tomovski, argued that his client had been prepared to go home after his ejection, but was provoked to return when bouncer Shane Knox came back outside, waved a cellphone, and called out to the two accused to retrieve it. The bouncer, court heard, had armed himself with a baton and taunted the two men by calling them "pussies," at which point Mr. Paredes "lost it" and raised his pistol in the direction of the tavern.
That provocation, the lawyer argued, meant Mr. Paredes lacked the self-control to have murderous intent at the moment he fired his gun, making his crime one of manslaughter.
Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto instructed jurors to first determine whether Mr. Paredes is guilty of murder or manslaughter before they weigh Mr. Zekarias's actions. If they find he abetted Mr. Paredes's crime, they must find him guilty of the same crime, the judge said. If they have reasonable doubt that Mr. Zekarias encouraged Mr. Paredes to kill, they must find him not guilty.
After jurors retired to deliberate, defence lawyers rose to object to her instructions, arguing they were tilted in favour of the Crown's case in several aspects.