‘Common purpose’

Joseph Victor MacLeod (Passagesmb)

In this blog’s last post, it talked about the recent homicide of Abdul Jemai and one of his alleged youthful attackers — who is a known quantity to police and the justice system.

It also led to this comment from the writer of local blog One Man Committee (a must read).

“That is downright chilling. It’s like a little bit of Afghanistan here in the ‘Peg – human IEDs, ready to explode at any given moment.”

It led me to think: that’s some strong imagery. Human IEDs.

And while some may feel it’s a little too strong — Mr. Krawec actually nails it squarely on the head.

Random guy in street attacked, killed — by young suspects. Because of the YCJA, the focus turns to ‘correcting’ the offender and eschews, by and large, deterring similar acts in the future.

In just a few short years of covering crime in Winnipeg, I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over again. Sometimes with fatal results, sometimes not.

It played out on May 23, 2009, in the death of Joseph Victor MacLeod near Isabel and Ross, for example.

Two cousins – each just 14 – surround MacLeod over some gang beef and start pushing him. He’s knocked to the ground, stabbed twice and dies.

The facts are, essentially — and no disrespect meant to the tragedy that occurred — boring.

On May 23, 2009 at 1 p.m. the accused N. M. and his cousin, R. G. noticed a male, Joseph Victor MacLeod, walking down the nearby lane adjacent to Ross Street where the boys were standing.

Both boys went towards the victim and the accused N.M. confronted the lone male for wearing a white bandanna.

The accused N.M. asked the victim what he “reps”.  This can be inferred as a gang challenge by the accused who had known gang affiliation.

The victim denied any involvement with a rival gang, took his bandanna off and started to walk away, but the accused  standing in front of the victim held him back with  both hands blocking his exit, while his cousin, standing behind the victim, held on to the back of his shirt with one hand.  The victim was struck a total of five times in the body by the accused and his cousin.

The co-accused cousin then stabbed the victim twice with a large 25 to 28 ccm. blade knife doing extensive internal damage resulting in death.

Immediately thereafter both boys fled.  It is an agreed fact that there is not any evidence that the accused was aware that his cousin was carrying a knife, brandished it and used it during the assault.

The victim died of these stab wounds.

—- from Judge Brent Stewart’s Feb. 25 decision

In late February, one of the boys — the one who didn’t stab MacLeod — was convicted of manslaughter. He’s awaiting sentencing.

The judge convicted him of the crime based largely on the “common purpose” principle — that he ought to have foreseen the possibility of McLeod’s death by participation in the assault:

Turning to the facts of this particular case.  The court is bound by the agreed statement of facts with some inferences.

The confrontation, which occurred related to what the court can infer as a gang turf challenge where the accused confronted the victim, challenging his wearing of a white bandanna, swearing at him and wanting to know who he “reps”.

The victim was trapped between the accused in the front and the accused cousin in the back.  As the victim started to walk away the accused held on by both hands blocking his exit and between the two boys the victim was hit five times in the body.

From these facts, and the action of the co-accused in concert it was apparent to the court that in fact this was a gang turf challenge, where the two co-accused intended through their actions to rough up (assault or lay a licking on the victim) and teach him a lesson of not coming into their turf.

The question then is whether or not there was objectively reasonable foreseeability of the risk of bodily harm being done by the accused on the victim.  To answer that one must look at the acts and words used by the accused as it related to the victim in concert with his cousin.

If the accused simply blocked the movement of the victim by a push or shove, such would be excluded from the definition of bodily harm as being merely trifle.  However, his holding on to the victim and then striking the victim in the body with two punches at the same time that his cousin was striking the back of the victim’s body with three punches, would in my opinion be foreseeable to injure the victim sufficient to amount to bodily harm.  It would be foreseeable that such an attack to the victim’s body in this manner would interfere with the health and comfort of the victim both physically and emotionally for some time and would not be trifling.

In any outcome I am certain that a random attack such as this would leave any victim with some psychological harm of a non trifling nature such that there would be fear of simply walking down the wrong street and being subject to an assault.

Similar fact scenarios have played out countless times in the city in recent years. I cite just off the top of my head:

  • This: Argument over T-shirt led to fatal stabbing
  • This: Manslaughter conviction overturned (now pending a decision from the Supreme Court — arguments heard in December)
  • This: Teens get one-day jail sentences for deadly beating
  • This: Man, 20, jailed for violent killing

Angry youth roaming the streets commit senseless acts of violence for no apparent reason (or reason that is in any way, shape or form acceptable).

Should we be shocked? Sure. Will that shock lead to meaningful change — or an actual discussion about how to curb it?

Likely not.

I’d submit that finding “common purpose” in this instance is not just for lawyers and judges.

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