VANCOUVER — British Columbia's top court has overturned a second-degree murder conviction against a man who was found guilty of stabbing a Good Samaritan in downtown Vancouver.
The Appeal Court of British Columbia ordered a new trial in the case of Kenneth Williams, who was handed a life sentence in June 2017 with no chance of parole for 10 years.
B.C. Supreme Court heard 28-year-old Robert Smith was killed when he got out of a cab and tried to intervene in a fight that broke out between the driver and Williams after Williams hit or kicked the vehicle while walking down the street.
The Appeal Court says the trial judge's failure to respond adequately to a question from the jury amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
The ruling says Williams relied on a defence of intoxication to raise a reasonable doubt about whether he intended to stab Smith to death.
It says that while the issue of Williams having drank a considerable amount of alcohol on the evening of the alleged offence was not contested, there was no direct evidence regarding his activities during a 90-minute period between when he left a restaurant and the stabbing.
During their deliberations, jurors asked if they could consider whether Williams continued to drink during that period and the role, if any, the "unaccounted-for time" could play in their decision-making.
"The trial judge failed to answer the jury’s question correctly and completely," Justice Gregory Fitch wrote in the Appeal Court decision.
It says the judge's reply that it was up to jurors to draw whatever inferences they chose prejudiced Williams's intoxication defence and was unlikely to resolve their confusion.
"The jury may have understood the answer as directing it not to consider what the appellant did during the 'unaccounted-for time,' when there was evidence capable of supporting a reasonable inference that he continued to drink," it says.
The ruling says the judge should have reviewed the evidence the jury could consider in determining whether to infer Wilson continued to drink in the period leading up to the stabbing.
Fitch says Williams testified he began drinking heavily in the late afternoon that day, went downtown with the goal of getting drunk and continued on with that goal while he was at a restaurant for two hours.
He says the bar tab confirmed Williams drank a considerable amount of alcohol and when he left the restaurant a witness overheard him telling someone he would be going to a liquor store.
The Crown maintains the witness's statement and the evidence Williams was not displaying obvious symptoms of impairment at the scene of the offence means there is no reasonable possibility he was in an advanced state of intoxication and unable to foresee the consequences of his actions.