William Sandeson has been found guilty of first-degree murder.
The jury, which deliberated for about 22 hours, returned its verdict at noon on Sunday.
Sandeson, 24, was on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Taylor Samson, a fellow Dalhousie University student. Samson went missing on Aug. 15, 2015. His body has never been found.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence without eligibility for parole for 25 years. Since Sandeson has already served time in jail, his parole eligibility has been reduced to about 23 years.
Formal sentencing is scheduled for July 11, when Samson’s family will tell the court — and Sandeson — what losing Taylor means to them.
‘Take a bow, Billy,’ says victim’s mother
Sandeson appeared impassive when the verdict was read in court.
As Sandeson was led out of the courtroom after the jury’s verdict was announced, Samson’s mom said to him, “Turn around and take a bow, Billy.”
Later, Linda Boutilier told reporters she feels Sandeson has been “arrogant” throughout the trial.
“He doesn’t care about his family, my family, Taylor,” she said. “It’s like, you’re the one who wanted this whole trial. You wouldn’t take a plea bargain. So turn around. Take a bow.”
Boutilier said she will now focus on searching for her son’s body.
“I want my son back,” she said. “If (Sandeson) doesn’t want to help us, then fine — I’ll find him on my own. I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to stop looking for Taylor. I’m bringing him home.”
One of Samson’s friends from high school, Kaitlynne Lowe, attended court and said she was “thrilled” with the verdict. She said Samson was a leader who pushed everyone to be the best they could be.
“He himself always wanted to be the best person ever,” Lowe said. “He wanted to do everything for the people that he loved and he always gave back to everyone.”
Sandeson to lawyer: ‘Chin up’
The jury began its deliberations on Thursday afternoon after Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Josh Arnold spent 3½ hours instructing jury members.
Defence lawyer Eugene Tan told reporters after the verdict that the case was difficult. He would not say whether he will make an appeal.
Tan said Sandeson told him to keep his “chin up.”
“We had a chat this morning and he is focused on moving forward,” Tan said. “What he said to me is, ‘Don’t worry about me. We’ll keep moving forward.'”
Crown lawyer Susan MacKay said after a long trial with a lot of evidence, she was pleased with the jury’s verdict. MacKay credited the investigators who worked on the case for being efficient and well-organized, but also admitted the team had some “lucky breaks.”
Evidence from the trial
During the trial, court heard that both Sandeson and Samson were involved in the drug trade.
The prosecution alleged Sandeson was in money trouble and set up a drug deal with Samson on Aug. 15, 2015. When Samson arrived at Sandeson’s Halifax apartment, the Crown says Sandeson shot him to death and took his nine kilograms of marijuana.
The defence argued during its closing arguments that Sandeson is not a criminal mastermind and urged the jury to find him not guilty.
During court testimony, neighbours who lived across the hall from Sandeson testified that on Aug. 15, 2015, they heard a loud bang and saw a man with dark, curly hair sitting at Sandeson’s kitchen table, bleeding profusely. They also saw drugs and cash.
They left, and when they returned later, they saw bloody streak marks on the floor leading toward the bathroom.
A shower curtain was later found on the Sandeson family farm with Samson’s DNA on it.
In the days after Samson disappeared, Sandeson’s brother Adam found a large quantity of marijuana in his basement after William Sandeson told him he was dropping by to do some laundry. Adam Sandeson and his roommates contacted a lawyer and the drugs were handed over to the police.
Jury did not hear some evidence
There were several significant pieces of evidence that the jury did not see or hear because they were deemed to be prejudicial to Sandeson. During the trial, there were 10 voir dires — trials within a trial in which the jury is sent out of the courtroom so lawyers can argue over issues and evidence.
For instance, on the second-last day of the trial, the defence tried to have a mistrial declared because its own private detective pointed out damning evidence to the police.
Private detective Bruce Webb had been hired by the defence to interview potential witnesses. Two of those witnesses, Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe, had maintained for more than a year that they hadn’t seen anything. But after they told Webb what they saw — a bleeding man slumped over Sandeson’s kitchen table — Webb tipped off police that they should speak with Blades and McCabe again.
The jury also didn’t hear that just weeks before Sandeson killed Samson, he allegedly threatened to dismember his girlfriend, dissolve her body in lye and dispose of it on his family’s farm near Truro.
While the jury saw parts of Sandeson’s interview with police, the interview was edited so jury members would not see a Halifax Regional Police officer berating the accused and calling him “a piece of shit.”