TORONTO – The two men accused of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Jordan Manners were found not guilty Thursday, nearly four years after the 15-year-old died in the stairwell of his Toronto high school.
It was the second trial for the two men, who were 17 when Manners was killed and can only be identified as C.D. and J.W.
The first trial ended in a mistrial last year after four days of deliberations could not produce a unanimous verdict.
When the verdict was read Thursday, C.D and J.W. embraced their lawyers, while people in the courtroom cried out in surprise.
"These boys have been in custody for a very long time," said J.W.’s lawyer, Donald McLeod. "Although it’s not a day to be elated, I think it’s a day for us to at least see that justice did the job that we believe should have been done today."
The case was sent to the jury on Wednesday and it returned a verdict by Thursday afternoon.
"You’re always surprised when the verdict comes back this fast," said McLeod. "But they’d been contemplating this for months."
McLeod said his client was relieved that it was over and was ready to get on with his life.
"He was very, very happy," the defence lawyer said. "Life comes back to him."
Crown attorney Tom Lissaman said there will not be an appeal.
"We respect the verdict of the jury and our hearts go out to the Manners family, in particular, Jordan’s mother," said Lissaman. "But again, in the manner in which this evidence came out before this jury, it is a reasonable verdict."
Manners’ mother was not in the courtroom to hear the verdict.
During the first trial, two key witnesses backed away from statements they had earlier given police. One of the teenage girls said she couldn’t recall the events while another said her account was based mainly on gossip.
A retrial began in March with the two accused, now 21, again pleading not guilty.
The Crown alleged the two had planned to rob Manners but it ended in murder.
The defence argued that Manners was accidentally shot while examining the gun with two other students in a second-floor washroom at the school.
Witnesses included students and staff from Manners’ school, C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in the city’s north end. One teacher testified that Manners was fascinated with guns.
Court heard Manners and the accused were friends and the Crown was not able to demonstrate there was any conflict between them.
But Lissaman played a videotaped statement from a key witness, a former student named Y.M., who told police she saw J.W. dragging Manners down the stairs "like a rag doll."
Appearing in court, however, Y.M. said she invented the statement to get attention.
"I don’t think it played a factor in this at all," said defence lawyer Gary Grill. "If she hadn’t recanted and stuck to her original story, I think we would have seen the exact same verdict."
Other witnesses put C.D. at the scene, although he had reportedly dropped out of school.
Manners’ death on May 23, 2007, sent shockwaves through the city.
The slight teen, described as a "sweet little boy" by neighbours, had celebrated his 15th birthday just days before he was found lying in the school stairwell, a .25-calibre bullet lodged in his body.
The boy was shot at such close range there was a powder burn on his jacket, court heard. His clothes had to be cut off because his jacket zipper was melted closed by the gunshot.
Witnesses told court they didn’t immediately realize what had happened since there was very little blood and Manners, struggling to breathe, was unable to talk.
His death pushed the issue of school safety to the forefront, as police officers were posted to many Toronto high schools, security cameras were installed, reviews were ordered and legislation was passed to protect students.
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