What the jury in William Sandeson’s murder trial didn’t hear
Jurors in William Sandeson’s first-degree murder trial have heard a tremendous amount of evidence over the last eight weeks – but there is some information that the jury didn’t hear.
Because Sandeson’s case was held before a judge and jury, anything that was said during the trial without the presence of the jury was protected under a publication ban and previously unable to be reported.
Now that the jury is sequestered, we are able to report what was said in the courtroom during that time.
There were two main issues discussed during a number of voir dire hearings – which is a trial within a trial without the jury. The first had to do with a private investigator named Bruce Webb.
Webb worked at Martin Investigations Inc., a private investigative firm in Nova Scotia which is operated by former Halifax Regional Police detective Tom Martin.
Martin Investigations was hired by law firm Walker, Dunlop and Tan – Sandeson’s defence team. A number of investigators were assigned to various tasks to assist defence lawyers, including Webb.
However, the court would find out that while Webb was hired by the defence – he actually helped police in making their case against Sandeson.
Webb worked as an RCMP officer 35 years before retiring and later going to work for Martin Investigations. He testified in a voir dire that he was given the task of interviewing potential witnesses, including Sonja Gashus, Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe in the fall of 2016.
Gashus, Sandeson’s ex-girlfriend, told the court that she met Webb at Dalhousie University, where she spoke to him about the case. Gashus said she felt like Webb cared for her wellbeing. She said Webb told her to remove herself as much as she could from the situation and that “it didn’t look good for Will.”
Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe were at McCabe’s apartment – located across the hallway from Sandeson – on the night of Aug. 15, 2015. The first time both men spoke to police they essentially said they didn’t see anything.
However, when they testified in court the men told a very different story – that they heard a loud bang come from inside the apartment that night. A few moments later, Sandeson came to McCabe’s door, incoherent.
Blades told the court that he looked inside Sandeson’s apartment twice following the noise. The first time, he said he saw a man slumped over at the kitchen table, bleeding from the head and that Sandeson was running around picking up bloody money. The second time he looked inside the apartment, Blades said he didn’t see the man sitting at the table but saw drag marks going down the hallway towards the bathroom.
McCabe also testified that he saw a man with dark hair and shorts sitting in a chair in Sandeson’s kitchen with blood running down his back. The testimony of both Blades and McCabe was described by the Crown as a “very compelling piece of evidence” – evidence that may not have come to light if it wasn’t for Bruce Webb.
That’s because when assigned to speak with witnesses, Webb tracked down Blades and McCabe and after asking them what had happened on the night of Aug. 15, 2015, encouraged the men to speak to police.
When questioned about what he did under oath in court by the defence, Webb said that Blades wanted to come clean because he had a burden that was on his shoulders for more than a year.
Webb said that Blades was hiding for more than a year when they met and that he was scared to come forward because he had heard that Sandeson was getting his drugs from the Hells Angels. Webb said that Blades was scared he would be killed.
“He was really, really messed up. He was in hiding for a year,” Webb told the court of Blades when being questioned.
Webb said he asked Blades if he wanted to speak to police and when Blades said “yes”, he said, “I know a fella that I can put you in contact with.”
Webb agreed with the defence that if he didn’t get the information from Martin Investigations he never would have been in contact with Blades.
He told the court that he was helping a young man get his life back on track who was “harbouring what he saw that night for over a year.”
Webb said he knew Staff Sgt. Richard Lane lived near him and saw him out walking with his puppy following his conversation with Blades. Webb said he told Lane that he had interviewed Blades and what he said he saw that night.
When asked by Eugene Tan if Webb expressed police weren’t doing enough to further their own investigation, Webb said, “I could have, yes.”
Tan also asked Webb if he had come to a conclusion at that point in time that Sandeson was guilty, Webb replied, “a strong likelihood, yes.”
Webb told the court that he should have taken more time to think about what he was going to do and “in hind sight, I should have contacted Tom Martin. I didn’t.”
One day after speaking with Lane, Webb told the court that he was contacted by RCMP Cpl. Jody Allison. Webb then set up a meeting between Blades and Allison.
Webb testified he tried a few times to get a hold of Pookiel McCabe through Facebook, when he finally reached him, the pair spoke on the phone.
Webb said McCabe was nervous and reluctant to speak to him. During their phone interview, Webb said McCabe also expressed some concerns about the Hells Angels.
Following their conversation, Webb testified that McCabe didn’t make any commitment to speak to police and that he provided contact information for McCabe to Allison.
When asked about Webb, Blades told the court that he was fearful before he spoke to him – but that Webb gave him insight into how drug cartels worked and that it helped him.
Webb said he “wanted to do the right thing” and agreed with Tan that he had reached a conclusion that there was a strong possibility Sandeson was guilty and felt police weren’t doing enough and needed help.
Within days of speaking with Webb, new statements had been given to police by both Blades and McCabe, which were subsequently passed along to the defence team.
Both Tom Martin and Eugene Tan testified in court that they were surprised about the timing of the new statements.
Martin told the court that he asked Webb if he had encouraged or advised the men to go to police and that Webb told him absolutely not. Martin said he believed Webb “based on the fact I knew the man.”
Meanwhile, Tan testified that he also asked Webb what was going on and why Blades and McCabe had gone to police. Tan said Webb told him that he was asked to lean on the men to see what would do under pressure and that maybe he leaned too hard.
The jury also didn’t hear that while the Crown was still presenting their case, the defence asked for a mistrial.
The defence argued for a mistrial on three grounds: there was late disclosure by the Crown, an alleged breach of confidentially by Bruce Webb and William Sandeson’s right to a fair trial.
The issues relate to the Crown providing the involvement of private investigator Bruce Webb and his involvement with the police to the defence.
When rendering his decision on the mistrial application, Judge Josh Arnold called it “a significant issue.” Arnold said he reviewed everything submitted to him and looked at all the evidence.
He ultimately decided that he would not declare a mistrial. “I don’t think there would be a miscarriage of justice,” Arnold said when reading a portion of his decision to the court.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.