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Robbers shot man in his home: Crown

Oct 16 2012

In the early hours of March 3, 2010, Andrew Belcourt and Samuel Mcgrath entered a small apartment concealed in dark clothing and hoods, one of the two carrying a loaded shotgun, a B.C. Supreme Court trial heard Monday.

Soon after, Leslie Hankel, a 52-year-old man with mental-health problems, was shot in the head and died almost instantly, Crown prosecutor Catherine Murray told the jury in her opening statement in the case against the two accused.

Belcourt and Mcgrath have pleaded guilty to robbery with a firearm and break and enter. The issue the jury must decide is whether Belcourt and Mcgrath are guilty of the second-degree murder of Hankel, who lived alone in his apartment at 1260 Pembroke St.

The Crown's theory is that Belcourt and Mcgrath thought they would find money and marijuana in Hankel's apartment and planned a home invasion, said Murray.

On March 2, Mcgrath bought a shotgun and brought it to the Johnson Street townhouse where Belcourt was staying. That night, both men learned how to use the shotgun. Close to midnight, they suited up in dark clothing and went to Hankel's apartment.

The Crown believes that just before 1 a.m., Belcourt and Mcgrath kicked in the door, splintering and breaking the door frame. Inside, they assaulted Hankel and demanded weed and money. They ransacked his apartment, emptying cupboards and drawers, even pulling his bed apart in their search for drugs and money.

"You will learn the shotgun was discharged twice in that bedroom," Murray told the jury. "The first shot was fired through the ceiling into the apartment above. The second shot, fired through Mr. Hankel's head, killed him immediately."

Belcourt and Mcgrath fled, taking Hankel's wallet and a small tin of marijuana, said Murray.

A pathologist is expected to testify that the muzzle of the gun was "three to five feet away" from Hankel's head, said Murray.

The jury was told that in the coming weeks, they will hear from police, civilians, forensic and medical experts and a cellphone analyst. They will also hear from three associates of the accused.

A young woman is expected to testify that Bel-court had been staying at her Johnson Street townhouse for a couple of weeks before the shooting.

She is expected to say that both Belcourt and Mcgrath were at her house on the night of March 2, 2010. They left to rob Han-kel, then returned to her townhouse with blood on their shoes and clothing, said Murray.

She will say she cleaned their shoes and washed their clothes.

"We expect she will tell you that Mr. Belcourt told her what happened at Han-kel's apartment," said Murray.

"She will also tell you that after Mr. Mcgrath left, Mr. Belcourt told her that during the robbery his mask fell down and so he had to shoot Mr. Hankel."

The second associate is a young man who is expected to testify that Belcourt asked him to drive them out of town the next day.

The third associate is related to one of the accused. He will tell the jury he sold the shotgun to Mcgrath on the evening of March 2, then showed both accused how to operate it, said Murray.

"Both the young driver and the relative will testify that Mr. Belcourt told them he shot the man because his mask fell down," said Murray.

The jury will hear that when the young driver showed up in an older-model Thunderbird at the Johnson Street townhouse, police already had the accused under surveillance.

All three were arrested at the Shell station on Spencer Road.

The jury will learn that police searched the car and found a shotgun, Hankel's wallet and Belcourt and Mcgrath's running shoes.

The jury will hear that the shoes had Hankel's DNA on them and that the right shoe of each pair of runners left an impression on the outside of Hankel's door as they kicked it in, said Murray.

The Crown will ask the jury to find that Belcourt was the shooter, but both men are guilty of murder as parties, said Murray.

"We will ask you to find that Mr. Belcourt and Mr. Mcgrath formed a plan to carry out a break and enter and robbery of Leslie Han-kel using a loaded shotgun and that both of them knew that death was a probable consequence of carrying out that plan," she said.

The trial continues today.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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