Huddled together, holding each other for support, the family of John O'Keefe found some comfort in a guilty verdict.
Minutes earlier, inside a Toronto courtroom, jurors convicted two men in the death of Mr. O'Keefe, an innocent pedestrian gunned down outside a Yonge Street strip club in 2008.
"While our family is relieved that the trial is over, all of our lives are changed forever," the family said in a statement read by Detective Sergeant Dan Nielsen. "It's still hard for us to believe that our peace-loving and friendly son John would suffer such a violent death."
Mr. O'Keefe's parents, John and Gwen, and his sister, Jennifer, stood solemnly behind Detective Sergeant Nielsen. "No verdict can ever compensate for the great loss we have suffered," he read.
The jury found Edward Paredes guilty of second-degree murder, and Awet Zekarias guilty of manslaughter. The verdicts marked the end of a seven-week trial for Mr. Paredes, the 24-year-old gunman, and his friend Mr. Zekarias, 25, and a long ordeal for the families of all concerned. Mr. Zekarias was accused of encouraging Mr. Paredes to fire at bouncers who had ejected the pair from the Brass Rail tavern early on Jan. 12, 2008. Both were charged with second-degree murder.
Mr. O'Keefe, 42, died of a single bullet to the head after he walked unwittingly into the sidewalk dispute between the two men and the bouncers. The shot, though errant, was chilling in its efficiency. Court heard Mr. O'Keefe likely died before he hit the ground.
Mr. O'Keefe's death, as he walked to the subway after an evening out with friends, shocked Toronto for its darkly random nature, and for its similarities to another shooting of an innocent person on Yonge Street two years earlier: Jane Creba, 15, on Boxing Day, 2005. Ironically, two of the accused in her case were also sentenced yesterday.
Court heard Mr. Paredes illegally carried his fully registered, holstered semi-automatic pistol into the strip club under his clothes that night and behaved obnoxiously to the point that he and Mr. Zekarias, his table mate, were asked to leave. When they protested, bouncers forcibly removed them.
Witnesses testified that Mr. Zekarias threatened the bouncers with "gun talk" during and after his ejection from the club and, once outside, repeatedly urged Mr. Paredes to shoot; to "get the gat," "bring the heat" and "smoke these fools," and to give him the gun so he could do the job himself.
Mr. Paredes "racked" or loaded the pistol in a bid to scare the bouncers, but they had gone back inside the club. He and Mr. Zekarias then began walking away, presumably to go home, when two bouncers returned to the sidewalk. One of them, Shane Knox, waved a cellphone and called to the men to come back and get it. In his testimony, Mr. Knox said he wanted to return the phone to the men outside to prevent them from coming back into the club and causing further trouble. The defence, however, suggested the bouncer used the dropped phone, along with a baton he had armed himself with before he returned to the sidewalk, as props in a play to goad the men into a fight.
Mr. Paredes testified that Mr. Knox called him and Mr. Zekarias "fucking pussies" when he called out about the phone. At this point, the gunman said, he "lost it," turned around, racked his weapon again and raised it in view of the bouncers, who retreated to safety in the bar's vestibule.
Mr. Paredes claimed he meant only to scare the bouncers when he pulled the trigger. He said he deliberately fired wide of where they had stood and did not notice Mr. O'Keefe as he walked, his back to the shooter, into the bullet's path.
Mr. Zekarias admitted to being angered by his ejection from the bar and mouthy with the bouncers, but denied encouraging his friend to kill at the time he pulled the trigger.
Outside the courthouse, Detective Sergeant Nielsen said he was satisfied with the verdict. "I think that the jury deliberated long and hard, they took their job very seriously and I think they rendered a fair and proper verdict in this case," he told reporters.
The two men will be sentenced July 5.