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High-profile lawyer defends man charged over snowplow rampage that killed police officer

Toronto police officers from the task force collect evidence on Keele Street, south of Dundas where the driver of a stolen snow plow was shoot by police after hitting another officer with the vehicle, Toronto Jan. 12, 2011.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Jury selection begins this week in the murder trial of a St. Catharines, Ont., man accused of stealing a snowplow two years ago and embarking on a wild, early morning driving rampage that killed Toronto police Sergeant Ryan Russell.

Richard Kachkar, 46, is charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 12, 2011, death of Sgt. Russell, who had been with the Toronto Police Service for 11 years.

First-degree murder usually means a killing was planned ahead of time, or was committed while the victim was being sexually assaulted or confined.

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But under provisions written into the Criminal Code when Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976 – the same year the United States reinstated it – killing a police officer or prison guard automatically brings a charge of first-degree murder.

And in this instance, it is highly unlikely prosecutors would agree to a guilty plea on any lesser charge, such as manslaughter.

Representing Mr. Kachkar will be veteran defence lawyer Bob Richardson, who has had numerous high-profile clients.

Several other big trials get under way in the weeks ahead, and hundreds of prospective jurors will be lining up Monday morning at the big Superior Court building on University Avenue.

Selecting the jurors for Mr. Kachkar's trial, projected to last at least eight weeks, will begin Thursday, and because the victim was a police officer, the vetting process by Crown and defence is sure to be rigorous.

Sgt. Russell, 35, left behind his wife, Christine, and son Nolan. He was the 25th officer killed in the line of duty since the Toronto force was formed in 1956.

His death and subsequent funeral stirred a huge show of support for Toronto police by city residents and politicians. The events also spawned a major investigation by the homicide squad, with dozens of detectives and uniformed officers assigned to it.

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Mr. Kachkar had checked into the Good Shepherd shelter on Queen St. East at around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2011, after arriving in Toronto on a bus from St. Catharines.

Police allege that early the next morning, near Dundas and Parliament streets, he stole a snowplow – a heavy-duty pickup truck with a mechanized shovel attached to the front – after its driver stepped into a Tim Hortons coffee shop and left the engine running.

Mr. Kachkar then allegedly careened through the snowy downtown streets for more than two hours, damaging numerous parked cars, before eventually striking and killing Sgt. Russell near Avenue and Davenport roads as the officer tried to wave him down.

After allegedly mowing down Sgt. Russell, Mr. Kachkar was finally arrested on Keele Street and was shot several times in the process.

Despite the sub-zero temperatures, he was barefoot when he allegedly stole the plow.

And last August, after a preliminary inquiry that sent him to trial, he underwent a 30-day psychiatric assessment to determine whether he was legally sane when his alleged rampage took place.

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