Toronto police officer James Forcillo has been found guilty of attempted murder, even though Sammy Yatim died after being shot on an empty streetcar in July 2013.
But Forcillo was found not-guilty of second-degree murder.
For many, those verdicts don’t make sense.
Toronto lawyer Ari Goldkind explained that the two different verdicts are due to a distinction made between the charges.
The second-degree murder charge is connected to the first three shots fired by Forcillo on the streetcar. The attempted murder charge has to do with the following six shots he fired.
WATCH: Dramatic video with audio captures final moments of Sammy Yatim’s life before being fatally shot by police
The jury found that for the first three shots – the shots that are said to have killed Yatim – either the Crown could not prove that Forcillo intended to kill Yatim or the jury believed Forcillo was acting in self-defence.
That means he’s not guilty of second-degree murder, or manslaughter, which was also an option for the jury.
But for the next volley of shots, it was a different story, Goldkind explained.
“The first three shots, Sammy Yatim has the knife, he’s sort of holding the knife, he’s looking scary or he might come off the streetcar,” Goldkind said.
“That argument is obviously gone once the boy is lying on the ground with his spine severed.”
And the jury agreed. They determined he is guilty of attempted murder – because the final six shots weren’t the shots that actually killed Yatim.
Knowing the distinction between the two volleys of shots, the question now becomes: how do you get convicted for attempted murder of someone who is already dead?
“It’s possible to be convicted of trying to do something that is impossible,” Goldkind explained.
“So all the attempted murder means is that he did try to kill him, it’s irrelevant that the first three shots happened and there was no justification for those six bullets.”
The Crown made the distinction between the two sets of shots because no police officer in the province has ever been convicted of murder in the death of a suspect, Goldkind said.
“The crown didn’t think that a police officer would get convicted of anything, so they sort of split their case,” he said.
“That was the legal strategy as to why this happened.”
Goldkind said there have been four cases of police officers charged and acquitted of murder in Toronto, and 11 in Ontario.
“They’ve all gotten off. So this is unprecedented.”
Forcillo’s defence lawyers are seeking a stay in the trial, meaning they don’t want the jury’s verdict to be rendered.
“They say something happened in the trial that renders it unfair,” Goldkind explained.
He guessed the defence will try to lump the shots together, meaning there would be no distinction between the first volley of shots and the second.
“Obviously the defence’s view – if that’s their application – would be that he would have been acquitted of everything.”
Forcillo’s lawyers have also claimed the beginning of the trial was a “trial by YouTube,” but that’s not the case, according to Goldkind.
“We all saw the video,” he said. “We all had a concern with the first three shots, that they shouldn’t have been fired. The second volley of shots – the six (he was convicted of) – is actually less interesting to people and has received less attention.”
Forcillo is currently out on bail, but he will be back in court in May.
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