The first week of the murder trial of Toronto police Constable James Forcillo was dominated by video images of the incident that ended with the officer shooting 18-year-old Sammy Yatim just after midnight on July 27, 2013.
But even though the first witness has not yet finished testifying, the defence has made its strategy clear.
Defence lawyer Peter Brauti indicated that he intends to make the conduct and character of Mr. Yatim a central issue in the trial, not only on the night of the confrontation on a streetcar, but also previous events in the young man's life. Even in his questioning of a witness, Mr. Brauti described what happened that evening as "the night of Mr. Yatim's conduct."
The fundamental task for the jury in the Ontario Superior Court trial is to judge the actions of Constable Forcillo, 32, who is facing charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in the July, 2013, death of the 18-year-old high school student.
The jury must determine if Constable Forcillo had "reasonable grounds" as defined in the Criminal Code to use lethal force when he fired nine shots at Mr. Yatim as he stood near the top step of the westbound streetcar.
A central part of the Crown's assertion that the officer did not have reasonable grounds was presented during the first week of the trial through video images from inside and outside the streetcar where Mr. Yatim was killed. The videos, from security cameras and people at the scene who used smart phones to capture the incident, show the events leading up to the confrontation and when Constable Forcillo fired his semi automatic weapon three times and then a second volley of six shots – eight of which struck Mr. Yatim.
The conduct of the young man, who exposed himself and also threatened streetcar passengers, wielding a switchblade with a 10-centimetre blade shortly before midnight on July 26, 2013, is relevant to what the jury must decide.
After the jury was shown photos late on Thursday afternoon that included images of what was found in Mr. Yatim's pockets and knapsack, Mr. Brauti asked the primary Special Investigations Unit (SIU) civilian investigator, Steven Adam, questions about the items.
In reference to $48.75 that was in Mr. Yatim's possession, "If I said that was all the money he had to his name, you couldn't dispute," Mr. Brauti said.
"I couldn't dispute, or support," Mr. Adam replied.
The defence lawyer suggested there was no evidence Mr. Yatim had a job or a regular source of income and referred to what he described as "multiple illicit drugs" found in the young man's system.
Crown attorney Milan Rupic told the jury in his opening address that a toxicologist found "moderate or moderate high" levels of the drug ecstasy. As well, tests indicated Mr. Yatim "had at some point consumed a quantity of marijuana," the Crown said. There was also a trace of a metabolite of cocaine, which is the part that remains in the blood after the drug has been processed by the body, the jury was told.
A number of text messages from a female friend were downloaded from the smart phone found on Mr. Yatim. Mr. Brauti read out the content of several messages in his cross-examination of the SIU investigator.
The messages indicated that the young woman alternated between being very angry or very content with Mr. Yatim, and suggested a level of intimacy.
The actions and character of Mr. Yatim were also mentioned frequently in the opening address by Mr. Brauti this week. He told the jury that the defence usually does not deliver an opening statement until the Crown closes its case. But he was given permission by Superior Court Justice Edward Then, who is presiding over the trial.
"It is important for you to understand that there will be another side of this story," Mr. Brauti said. "There will be another whole body of evidence to come later."
Some of this evidence will come from Constable Forcillo, who will testify in his defence, Mr. Brauti said. As well, Dusan Pravica, the Toronto police sergeant who discharged his taser at Mr. Yatim, as he lay dying on the streetcar floor, will also be a defence witness.
"To end the confrontation and start getting Mr. Yatim medical assistance, Mr. Yatim was tased," Mr. Brauti told the jury.
The trial resumes Monday and is expected to last two months.