A Halifax jury has begun deliberating the fate of the man accused of second-degree murder in the death of Tylor McInnis, whose body was found in a stolen car in a North Preston, N.S., cemetery nearly three years ago.
The 12-member panel is cut off from all outside contact until they reach a verdict, which means media can now report some details the jury didn’t hear during the trial of Shawntez Neco Downey.
They include how the Crown’s star witness was under police protection during the trial, that another person involved in the case had already pleaded guilty, and how Downey’s defence sought to have the jury consider a lesser charge against him.
Jurors began their deliberations late Thursday afternoon following final instructions from Justice Denise Boudreau. If they cannot come to a verdict by evening they will be sequestered tonight.
Downey is also charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and forcible confinement involving a second victim, McInnis’s friend, Liam Thompson. Downey’s younger brother, Daniel Romeo Downey, is also on trial charged with kidnapping, forcible confinement and being an accessory to murder.
The Crown has argued that on the night he was killed, McInnis, 26, had intended to trade drugs for a gun, but Shawntez Downey decided to rob him instead and shot him to death.
At the start of the trial last month in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, the jury was told Shawntez Downey faced a charge of first-degree murder. But this week, Justice Denise Boudreau told the jury the charge had been reduced to second-degree murder.
When the Crown closed its case last week, defence lawyers applied for what’s known as a directed verdict. That’s where a judge tells a jury they are only to consider certain charges against the accused.
Lawyers for Shawntez Downey argued, without the jury in the courtroom, that the Crown had not shown the shooting was premeditated and had therefore failed to prove first-degree murder. They also tried to argue the Crown had failed to prove Shawntez Downey could be found guilty of unlawful confinement or kidnapping.
Boudreau agreed the first-degree murder charge should not remain, and said she would release her reasons at a later date. She refused to direct the jury on the two charges related to Thompson.
The Crown said Thompson, who had driven McInnis to North Preston, was held in the backseat of his own car while McInnis was pursued and killed.
Thompson was able to escape the next morning and walk to the home of relatives. In his testimony, he claimed to have little memory of what happened that night.
Boudreau’s decision was the second time in the case a charge of first-degree murder against Shawntez Downey was dropped. At the completion of the preliminary inquiry in October 2017, provincial court Judge Elizabeth Buckle also found the Crown’s evidence did not sustain the charge. She committed him to stand trial on a charge of second-degree murder.
The Crown subsequently preferred an indictment against Shawntez Downey — legal jargon for putting the first-degree murder charge back in place.
Daniel Downey also made a bid for a directed verdict and was successful on the robbery charge. The judge agreed the Crown had failed to produce enough evidence to sustain that charge.
Initially, three people — all charged with first-degree murder — were expected to stand trial. But as the case made its way through the courts, the only murder charge to remain was against Shawntez Downey.
Just days before the trial opened, the third man, Nicco Alexander Smith, pleaded guilty to being an accessory. The Crown then moved to have a sweeping publication ban imposed on his case: his name, his guilty plea and his relation to the McInnis homicide could not be reported while the trial was ongoing.
Another man, Judson Falls, had originally been charged with forcible confinement in the case. That charge was withdrawn and the Crown issued a subpoena to have him brought to court to testify against the Downey brothers.
But the Crown ended its case without calling Falls as a witness and instead focused on the testimony of one man, Ronald Sock.
Witness under police protection
A great deal of emphasis in this week’s closing arguments focused on Sock’s credibility, as he was the only one to tie Shawntez Downey directly to the murder.
While the jury heard about Sock’s unsavoury past and how he said he restrained Thompson as Shawntez Downey pursued McInnis, they weren’t told he was under police protection when he testified.
Plain-clothes officers escorted him in and out of court each day and sat in the courtroom while he testified. The jury saw none of this, as Sock was seated in the witness box before the jury was brought into the courtroom.
Sock wasn’t the only one to be escorted in and out of the courtroom. While Daniel Downey has been free on conditions, Shawntez Downey remains in custody. He was brought into the courtroom by sheriffs and seated with his lawyers before the jury entered.