Sylvia Consuelo, a slight 34-year-old woman with long, dark hair, was found dead on the floor of her Etobicoke apartment in the early hours of Jan. 30, 2016. A bunch of unopened condoms had been scattered over her body and she had been sexually assaulted with an object.
Three years later, a jury is set to decide whether Najib Amin, 31, murdered Consuelo because he believed — wrongly — that she was HIV-positive and had given HIV to three people through unprotected sex.
There is no DNA evidence in the case, no fingerprints or an eyewitness to the murder.
In closing arguments on Thursday, the case against Amin was described as entirely circumstantial and based mainly on two pieces of evidence: security footage from Consuelo’s building that shows Amin and the alleged murderer on different days wearing apparently identical clothing and secretly recorded conversations between Amin and undercover police officers during a months-long operation to see whether Amin would confess to killing Consuelo.
Amin was captured on surveillance cameras entering the Kendleton Dr. apartment complex — three Toronto Community Housing buildings joined together by basement tunnels — on Jan. 24, 2016.
On Jan. 30, 2016, three hours before Consuelo was found dead, a man enters the complex wearing what appear to be the same grey shoes, jeans, black leather jacket, black hat with white writing on it, and same striped shirt as Amin days before. Before entering the building the man pulls a scarf up over his face that the Crown argues is remarkably similar to one worn by a woman who was with Amin on Jan. 24. The man left the building just over an hour later, his face still covered.
“Did someone break into Mr. Amin’s residence and raid his closet that day and just happen to steal and choose to wear these five, specific, distinctive pieces of clothing and then that person just happened to walk over to Sylvia Consuelo’s apartment,” said prosecutor Scott Arnold in his closing address. “It defies any coincidence.”
Defence lawyer Jennifer Penman argued the clothing Amin was wearing — including the blue jeans with a white seagull-like pattern on the back pockets — are extremely common and that, as Amin told the undercover officers, his friends often borrowed his clothes.
Penman also argued there is no way to know the masked man is the same person who murdered Consuelo. There are no cameras in the building hallways or elevator and therefore no video showing whether the man went up to Consuelo’s floor or entered Consuelo’s unit. The jury heard about plenty of illegal activity occurring at the Kendleton Dr. complex, she said, suggesting the masked man could have been concealing his identity for another reason other than murder.
Once police identified Amin as a suspect, an undercover police operation was launched in April 2016. The plan was to have an officer befriend Amin and for them to become business partners with another officer posing as a wealthy businessman with the ability to make legal problems — even murder — go away.
The identities of the two undercover officers are covered by a publication ban.
The operation began when police arranged for Amin to win a $100 shopping spree at Square One mall after filling out a marketing survey about a shisha bar. An officer known to Amin as Ryan was made a fellow winner and the two men struck up a friendship after spending the day together. After the shopping spree, Amin, his girlfriend and Ryan were treated to a free meal by the marketing company at a nearby shisha bar where Amin was introduced to an undercover officer posing as Raz, a big-shot businessman hoping to open a shisha bar in London.
On one occasion Amin, his girlfriend and some other undercover officers went to Ripley’s Aquarium to look at the sharks because Raz wanted to install a shark tank at his cottage, court heard.
Ryan and Amin continued to spend time together including at various strip clubs and Ryan began complaining about an ex-girlfriend called Jessie who had taken a gun he was keeping for his cousin.
While sitting in the parking lot of Albion Mall, Ryan asked Amin how he would kill a woman, hypothetically.
Amin said he would do it by jumping on top if her and using his hands to smother her mouth.
“Like how long you leave it there for?” Ryan asked about the hands.
“Until she stops moving and after she stops moving keep holding it for…for another two minutes just to like confirm it,” Amin responded.
The Crown argues this description is consistent with Consuelo’s cause of death — manual asphyxiation — and the internal injuries she suffered. The defence said the scenario described by Amin was generic and pointed out that he suggested other murder methods as well.
At one point the officer and Amin discuss Consuelo’s murder. Amin said Consuelo was a sex worker and that she had been “strangled to death, beat up and brutally raped” because “she was f-king guys and she’s not telling them to wear a condom, so she was spreading the disease.”
Consuelo did not have HIV, the jury heard, and the close friend Amin named as having been diagnosed HIV-positive testified that he’d been tested twice and did not have HIV.
As the police operation progressed Amin was told that Ryan killed his ex-girlfriend Jessie and that Raz was going to get rid of a witness by sending him to Florida.
By June, Ryan and Amin were planning to become business partners with Raz and they set up a meeting.
During the meeting Raz presented Amin with faked police documents that made it appear Amin was a suspect in Consuelo’s murder and that police were offering a $50,000 reward for information.
Raz offered to help Amin using his connections in the police force but said he needed to know what really happened first.
“This is the circle of trust. OK, honesty, trust, loyalty, we move forward,” he said.
Amin responded that he could not remember what happened that night.
“I don’t know everything was a blur like I was…I was s-t-faced that day,” he said. “I can’t really recall nothing to be honest.”
He said his friends had found out they had HIV.
“I was just wrong place, wrong time,” Amin said. He said again that he was “blacked out I don’t know what happened but I know they had to do something you know.”
He said he needed to talk to the four other men with him that night, two of whom were now in jail, and that he doesn’t know the “true story.”
Amin never did confess and eventually denied killing Consuelo.
He was arrested in November 2016 and charged with first-degree murder.
In her closing argument, defence lawyer Jennifer Penman, said that he fell completely for the police plan and would have confessed if he’d done it. Amin did not testify during the trial.
Prosecutor Scott Arnold argued Amin’s answers revealed his motive to murder Consuelo. He said the jury should consider that Amin did not immediately deny he killed Consuelo when the officers presented him with the faked police information — instead replying that he didn’t know what happened that night.
Penman said another man who lived in the same building as Consuelo was seen threatening her in the days prior to the murder over money that she owed him — a fact she said should give the jury enough basis for reasonable doubt about Amin’s guilt. One witness said she saw the man yell at Consuelo: “Where’s my f-king money…If you don’t give me that money now I will kill you.”
The man, Lawrence Hibbard, was investigated by police as a potential suspect but was never charged. He testified Consuelo had owed him $250 but said she paid him back $150 the day before she was killed. He said he was friends with Consuelo and often fed her when she couldn’t afford food.
“Hi, this is Sylvia,” said a handwritten note dated Jan. 29 that Hibbard said Consuelo left for him. “This is what I can just afford for what you know that I owe you OK!!! So so next month will be a hundred dollars okiely.”
In the note she offered to buy some stew meat the following Friday that Hibbard could cook for them.
Hibbard admitted that he could not recall where he was the night Consuelo died, exactly who he was with or if he had gone to her apartment that night. “Everything was a blur,” he said noting his addiction to crack cocaine at the time. But Hibbard said he was absolutely certain he did not kill Consuelo and repeatedly expressed shock at the brutality of her murder.
“Like…what kind of monster,” he exclaimed during cross-examination before being interrupted by the judge.
The jury is expected to begin deliberating on Monday.
Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati