Canada’s highest court restored the second-degree murder conviction of a Vernon man who in 2016 killed a Japanese exchange student in Vancouver and then shoved her body into a suitcase.
William Victor Schneider had successfully overturned his conviction in the B.C. Court of Appeal last year, arguing the B.C. Supreme Court justice who oversaw his trial made mistakes and accepted evidence of a conversation that should have been tossed out as hearsay.
Crown prosecutors, however, were successful in an appeal of that decision, meaning Schneider can no longer challenge the verdict. He has already been sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 14 years for the crime.
Key to the decision that was published Friday morning was the Supreme Court confirming the admissibility of a conversation Schneider’s brother, Warren, heard him have about Natsumi Kogawa, who at that point was considered missing, as evidence at his trial.
Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe said “the trial judge did not err in admitting the brother’s testimony as to what he overheard the accused say.”
Three questions needed to be answered to come to this conclusion: Was what the brother overheard relevant? Was an exception to the hearsay rule applicable? Did the trial judge exercise her discretion correctly in deciding that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect?
The majority of judges said the answer to all three questions was yes.
The Supreme Court ruled that what the brother overheard was relevant and the “party admission” exception is applicable in this case because it allows witness testimony about a confession even if the witness was not a party to that conversation.
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Finally, the trial judge used her discretion correctly and minimized the potentially harmful effects of the evidence with a strong caution to the jury about what they could make of it.
When Schneider’s brother Warren testified for the Crown in a jury trial after he was charged in Kogawa’s murder a voir dire, or trial within a trial, was held first to decide whether or not it was hearsay.
Once it was allowed to go into the trial, the brother’s testimony painted a grim picture.
“The brother said he confronted Mr. Schneider after seeing a photo of him with the missing woman in a news release,” reads a decision posted on Friday.
“He said Mr. Schneider allegedly admitted that he had been in a relationship with Ms. Kogawa. The next day, the brother said, Mr. Schneider had attempted suicide in his presence and told him where to find the woman’s body.”
The brother testified that he then overheard Schneider call his wife on the phone and ask if she had heard about the missing woman. Schneider, the brother said, then told his wife something along the lines of “I did it” or “I killed her.” In his testimony, the brother said he did not remember “word-for-word” what Schneider said, but that he was taking responsibility for the woman’s death.
Kogawa, 30, was reported missing on Sept. 12, 2016 by a close friend.
Her body was found in Gabriola Mansion, located at Davie Street and Nicola Street in Vancouver, later that month.
The RCMP arrested Schneider in Vernon the same day Kogawa’s body was found.