Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Gay Killing Case a Fabrication, Says Lawyer

Gay killing case a fabrication
lawyer: Manslaughter trial
Brian Hutchinson
National Post
November 16, 2004

VANCOUVER - Lawyers defending two men accused of clubbing a gay Vancouver man to death say police invented a case against their clients, by entering into an "unholy contract" with two young offenders already serving sentences for their roles in the fatal beating.

"The police are fabricating a case, based upon bought and sold testimony," defence lawyer James Millar told the B.C. Supreme Court yesterday.

Mr. Millar's remarks were made at the start of a long-anticipated trial resulting from the death of Aaron Webster, a 41-year-old homosexual. Mr. Webster's mangled corpse was found three years ago near a gay cruising area in Vancouver's Stanley Park.

An autopsy revealed he died from repeated blows to his head and neck, which caused an artery on the side of his skull to rupture.

Ryan Cran and Danny Rao have each pleaded not guilty to the charge of manslaughter. Mr. Cran was 18 at the time of Mr. Webster's death; Mr. Rao was 19.

Mr. Cran, a tall, slender man, is free on bail, while Mr. Rao, stocky and grim-faced, remains in custody. They are being tried together.

The downtown Vancouver courtroom where their case is being tried was filled yesterday with gays and lesbians who heard Crown prosecutors allege the two accused were members of a group that had made previous gay-bashing forays into Stanley Park and that they had on occasion sat in their vehicles and waited for gay men to approach before taking turns beating them.

The gay bashings began, it is alleged, after Mr. Cran had been confronted by a "peeping tom" while visiting Second Beach, a popular gay hangout in Stanley Park.

According to the Crown, Mr. Cran and Mr. Rao had been drinking with a number of other young men the night of Mr. Webster's death. They decided to drive to Stanley Park, where they ran into Mr. Webster walking, naked, towards their vehicle.

Armed with baseball bats, the men set upon Mr. Webster, it is alleged. The victim was later discovered by one of his friends, who was visiting the park to witness a meteor shower. Other witnesses who saw Mr. Webster being beaten will be called to testify by the Crown.

A long investigation into Mr. Webster's death led police to several suspects, among them Mr. Cran and Mr. Rao.

Two of their alleged cohorts pleaded guilty in Youth Court to manslaughter and were sentenced to short jail terms under conditions imposed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

In exchange for the light sentences, the two, who cannot be named, agreed to testify for the Crown in its case against Mr. Cran and Mr. Rao.

Defence lawyer Mr. Millar said in court yesterday that this deal, plus an incriminating statement that one of the convicted young offenders gave police, should preclude the two Crown witnesses from testifying against Mr. Rao and Mr. Cran.

The statement, said Mr. Millar, should be considered inadmissible, because it was obtained "illegally." According to Mr. Millar, one of the young offenders, who gave police a damning statement, was not informed of his rights and had been isolated and then "coerced" by police.

Mr. Millar asked Judge Mary Humphries to grant a voir dire, or trial within a trial, to reconsider whether the Crown's two star witnesses, now both adults, should be allowed to appear.

"This is bought and paid-for testimony," he repeated. "You should reject in totality the evidence of these two youths ... Is this something the court should condone?"

Judge Humphries reserved her decision on Mr. Millar's motion. The trial resumes today.