WATCH ABOVE: The lawyer for William Sandeson said he is shocked that the apartment where police believe Taylor Samson was killed has been renovated. He said that compromises his case. But an association that represents criminal lawyers said defence lawyers do not have the right to examine a crime scene. Julia Wong reports.
HALIFAX – The lawyer for a man accused of murdering Taylor Samson said he is shocked there have been renovations made at what police believe to be the crime scene, but the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association said defense lawyers do not have a right to examine crime scenes after they are released by police.
On Wednesday, Eugene Tan, who is defending William Sandeson, spoke to media after his client’s matter was discussed in court and put over to September 24. Samson went missing August 15; Sandeson was arrested five days later in connection to his murder. Police have said the two were known to one another. Court documents obtained by Global News show police believe Samson was involved in a drug deal gone wrong. His body has not been found.
Tan said disclosure from the Crown on the murder case has been “thin”.
“They certainly don’t make out the allegations so far,” he said, adding his client plans to plead not guilty.
Tan said he has issues with how the crime scene on Henry Street has been handled and what has happened to it since police searched the apartment where it is believed Samson was killed.
“I made arrangements to view it myself just to get an idea of what we were looking at and found it had been painted over, parts of the floor replaced, drywall put in place so there’s essentially nothing we can gain from an independent examination,” he said. “There’s been no reason given and certainly no reason why there was no effort to secure the property.”
Tan said he was at the Henry Street apartment this past Sunday when he discovered the renovations, which the landlord of the property confirms to Global News are still ongoing. The landlord declined to elaborate on when the renovations began.
“You would expect somebody would have taken a little stronger steps to ensure defense counsel had an opportunity at some point to take a look at the scene, even if it had been cleaned up to a certain point,” Tan said.
Theresa Rath, spokesperson for Halifax Regional Police, said that type of communication with the defense would be “unorthodox”.
Rath said that after police are granted a search warrant, police gather evidence and process the scene before releasing it back to the property owner or renter.
“We would not have authority to release that scene to anyone else,” she said. “We can’t stay longer than we need to. We can only be there for a specific period of time.”
“Once we’re done with a scene, we do have to release it and what the property owner chooses to do with it after that is up to the property owner.”
Defense examination of crime scene not “mandatory”
Brian Smith, treasurer of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association, said police have the right to release a scene once they are done their investigation. Smith is not associated with the Sandeson case.
“In a case such as an apartment, the apartment would be turned back into the hands of the landlord,” he said. “The landlord obviously would want to clean the place up or do whatever they have to in order to get it re-rentable having a very serious event having happened in their premise.”
Smith said defense lawyers do not have a right to attend the scene.
“My personal practice is that I have attended or tried to attend where feasibly possible every scene of a murder I’ve been involved in but it’s certainly not mandatory,” he said. “I will go to scenes where possible and take my own photographs because I find them sometimes more valuable to me than the police photos.”
However, he said the police and the property owner are under no obligation to allow the defense lawyer to view a crime scene and he does not believe it prejudices the case toward either the Crown or the defense.
“It’s always preferable to be able to go to the scene yourself and see some things in very rare situations that the police may have missed or that you are looking for because of instruction you’ve received from your client,” Smith said.
“In any event, I don’t think it really materially affects the ability of a lawyer to make a full answer and defense on behalf of his client. Unfortunate in this situation but that’s, I believe, the way it is.”
Defense hopeful for evidence from Crown
Tan said he hopes the Crown will provide him with the original forensic evidence, videotape evidence as well as photographs.
“I’m going to be commissioning my own experts in order to review it but at this point, I can’t really say other than it really prejudices the defense and their ability to essentially have a different version of what happened,” he said.
“I’m not going to blame anybody. All I can say is our ability to commission an independent report has been severely compromised.”
Truro search completed
Investigators spent several days scouring a property in Truro in relation to the case. Land records show that the property is connected to the Sandeson family. Police said last week they had found several items of interest. Earlier this week, police said they had completed their search in the area. Tan said he believes those items found will be irrelevant.
“Even if these allegations were true, which I’m not sure they are, I in no way believe that he would involve his family,” he said.
Rath said she was taken aback to hear Tan’s comments about the Truro search.
“In this case, we are actually still analyzing the items that were seized in Truro so it’s a bit surprising for us, for the defense to make commentary about it,” she said. “We have yet to make disclosure about any evidence that has been seized in this case to the Crown so, to our understanding, the defense actually would not have access to information about what evidence would be seized.”
She said police have not found Samson’s remains but she is confident in the case police have compiled against Sandeson.
“For us to lay a charge of first degree murder, we have to have sufficient evidence in relation to the crime. We are confident we have that in this case.”
Rath said police have executed other search warrants in connection to the case but she is not able to provide further detail because those warrants have been sealed.
Accused a “fine, young man”: Defense
Tan, who said he has known the Sandeson family for years and coached his client in the past, said Sandeson is disappointed with the charges. He calls Sandeson “a fine, young man” who is hardworking and comes from a close-knit, rural family.
“We certainly don’t agree with the allegations. Otherwise he is holding up well. It’s stressful. His family is being dragged through this,” he said.
The defense lawyer said he will be applying for bail though he admits it will be “probably unlikely” that Sandeson will be granted it.