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Belcourt trial: Don't let 'despicable' witness distract from case, jurors urged

Nov 23 2012

Andrew Belcourt and Samuel Mcgrath planned and acted together to commit the violent robbery that led to the fatal shooting of a mentally ill Fernwood man on March 3, 2010, a prosecutor said Thursday.

"They got dressed together, they left together and they kicked open the door of Leslie Hankel's apartment together on the count of three," Catherine Murray said, urging a B.C. Supreme Court jury to find both men guilty of second-degree murder.

Belcourt and Mcgrath have pleaded guilty to break and enter and robbery with a firearm. The 10 jurors, who are to begin deliberating on their verdict today, must decide if Belcourt, who was the shooter, is guilty of murdering Hankel, and if Mcgrath, as a party to the act, is also guilty of murder.

Murray urged the jury not to be distracted by the "clearly questionable" character of the key Crown witness Michael Rennie, who received thousands of dollars from police for informing on Belcourt, his stepson at the time.

"What kind of man sells a gun to his son's friend, knowing they are going to commit a home invasion?" Murray said. "But the trial is about these two men, not Michael Rennie. He's merely a witness in this case."

Rennie may have minimized his role in planning the robbery, Murray said. But Belcourt and Mcgrath executed it and, during the robbery, Hankel was killed.

The Crown's theory is that the two accused burst into Hankel's small Pembroke Street apartment while he was in the living room reading a magazine. Belcourt and Mcgrath were angry and assaulted Hankel, demanding a stash of marijuana, which Hankel did not have.

Belcourt, who had the gun, was mad, Murray said, describing how the accused fired the gun into the ceiling of the bedroom. Belcourt then made a conscious decision to load more ammunition into the shotgun's chamber. He had the weapon pointed directly at Hankel's head.

"These are deliberate actions," Murray said.

Belcourt wasn't getting his way and he deliberately shot Hankel.

The Crown believes Mcgrath, who did not testify, knew the gun was loaded and was in the bedroom when Hankel was shot. Hankel's DNA was found on Mcgrath's right running shoe, noted Murray. And after Belcourt and Mcgrath returned to Chantel Young's apartment, Mcgrath gave his clothes and shoes to Young to be washed and cleaned. His cleaned shoes were in the trunk of the car - along with other evidence they planned to destroy - when he and Belcourt were arrested.

"The only logical conclusion is he was in the room and got Mr. Hankel's blood on him," Murray said.

Belcourt's defence lawyer, Tim Russell, told the jury his client was not an innocent man.

"Andrew Belcourt caused Mr. Hankel's death. That's true," Russell said. "He's guilty of manslaughter."

But the jury must ask did Belcourt intend to kill Han-kel or did he shoot him accidentally, Russell said.

He urged the jury not to accept the Crown's theory that Belcourt's mask fell down, spurring him to shoot Hankel. The three Crown witnesses - who testified Belcourt told them just that - are all highly problematic, Russell said.

"Mr. Rennie is probably one of the most despicable characters anyone has ever met," Russell said.

The other two - Young and Max Deleeuw - both lied to police and at the preliminary inquiry.

"How do you know where the truth stops and the lies begin?" asked Russell.

He also encouraged the jury to reject the Crown's argument that Belcourt knew his actions that night would likely cause death. Belcourt testified that he thought the safety was on. He testified he did not believe the gun was going to discharge.

"None of you are Andrew Belcourt. None of you grew up with Mike Rennie ... [Bel-court] had no gun or safety training. He did not appreciate the risk," Russell said.

Mcgrath's lawyer, Mike Munro, told jurors his client should be acquitted.

"I've never had a stronger feeling that my client and I are in someone else's trial," he said. "There are so many things Belcourt did that we are not party to, and yet we get drawn in because we are part and parcel of the plan to commit the robbery, like it or not. And we don't like it."

The fact Mcgrath has Hankel's DNA on his shoe, does not prove he had knowledge the gun was loaded.

Mcgrath bought the gun, but didn't buy bullets, said Munro. Belcourt knew the gun was loaded, but he didn't tell Mcgrath.

"Was it reasonable for my client to expect that a bullet would come from an unloaded gun?" Munro asked.


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