Two men charged with murder have been found not guilty in the case of an alleged targeted hit on a rival gang member that instead killed an innocent couple outside Cranbrook a decade ago.
Gasps coursed through the public gallery as Justice Arne Silverman read an executive summary of his decision in Vancouver Supreme Court, noting that he found reasonable doubt in the Crown’s case.
“I am not satisfied that the two accused persons are innocent. However, I am also not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty,” said Justice Silverman.
Colin Raymond Correia and Sheldon Joseph Hunter were charged with first degree murder in a double-homicide that occurred outside Cranbrook in 2010.
The crown theorized it was intended to be a targeted gang hit on a rival gang member that instead killed Leanne Laura MacFarlane and Jeffrey Todd Taylor on May 29, 2010, who were living in the home in a rural area east of Cranbrook at the time.
Eight years later, both Correia and Hunter were arrested a day apart in Edmonton and Drumheller, respectively, before prosecutors announced murder charges on June 11, 2018.
The trial took 150 days of court time, starting with voir dires on evidence in September 2019, with intent to begin proceedings in April 2020. However, pandemic-related delays pushed the start of the trial to September 2020, while closing arguments were made last December.
Correia and Hunter did not testify in their defence, as the burden of proof is on Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Silverman highlighted three main reasons that led to the establishment of reasonable doubt in the Crown’s case.
He said the evidence established that the intended target of the hit — Doug Mahon — did not live at the residence where the murders occurred, and that there was reasonable doubt about whether the two accused knew that the intended victim did not reside at the address, and had not been there for months.
Credibility of a key witness whose identity is protected by a publication ban was also a factor, as testimony was suspect when considered in isolation and against the totality of the evidence, according to Silverman.
Thirdly, with regard to Hunter, reasonable doubt was predicated on cell phone records suggesting he was in a different location at the same time of the murders and corroborated with the credible alibi evidence of a friend.
The house where the murders occurred, a duplex, was previously the residence of Doug Mahon, who was arrested there by police following a shooting at the Sam Steele Hotel on Oct. 29, 2009.
In 2013, Correia and Lorne Carry were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder against Mahon, allegedly in retaliation for the shooting. A third man, Lonnie Adams, was acquitted of the conspiracy charge, however, all three were also convicted of counselling to commit murder as part of the same trial proceedings.
On the morning MacFarlane and Taylor were murdered, two witnesses living in the adjoining duplex unit described seeing two men, as recounted in Silverman’s ruling.
One man was described as five foot, eight inches wearing a light green ‘army suit’ with a long-sleeve jacket, long pants, large black boots and black gloves and prominent long dreadlocks with a ‘blurry’ face as if he had nylon over it, with a deep voice and a slight accent and holding a black gun. Another man was described as being stockier, around five foot eleven inches and wearing green pants with black boots, gloves and a backpack.
Both witnesses did not see any sign of blood on the men’s clothing, according to Silverman’s ruling
Witnesses travelling on the highway near the residence, either as drivers or passengers, all gave varying descriptions and details about men seen on the road at the time of the murders. Silverman found that consistent details that all highway witnesses agreed upon was that no one had blood on their clothing, no one was seen holding a gun, no one was seen carrying or talking on a cell phone.
Key to the Crown’s case was testimony from a witness who was granted immunity and identified only as ‘Z’ due to a publication ban.
Z’s anticipated evidence changed from initial statements made to police, testifying that he and Correia picked up Hunter and drove to a scene near the murders. Pulling into a secluded area, he testified that Ccorreia and Hunter retrieved items from the truck and were gone for several hours, and that when they returned, there were pistols in their hands and blood on their clothing.
Silverman ruled that evidence from ‘Z’ was tainted, as his statements to police changed over time based on external sources or suggested details raised during police interviews. While ‘Z’ initial statements to police that he had not seen blood on the clothing of the accused, he later said he did see blood in a 2015 re-enactment of the incident with police.
Silverman determined that ‘Z’ lied to investigators in order to receive legal immunity, and continued to lie after it was granted.
Based on RCMP testimony, Silverman also determined that RCMP investigators did not consider Correia as a suspect initially after the murders because he would have known that Mahon was living at a home in Wasa Lake, based on confirmation from an associate as well as recent breached bail conditions.
On evidence specific to Hunter, a witness testified she was with him the morning of the murders and that they had gone for a drive, as she was practicing for her learner’s license.
Additionally, over the course of approximately three hours that morning, Hunter’s cell phone was involved in 13 calls that all utilized a cell tower in downtown Cranbrook. As a known drug trafficker at the time, there was no evidence to suggest that anyone other than Hunter himself was using the phone, according to Silverman.