A jury has convicted two Toronto brothers of second-degree murder for randomly ambushing and killing 17-year-old Trevor Seraphine, whose horrifying final moments were captured by an apartment lobby surveillance camera.
Jurors retired late Thursday afternoon to begin deliberations in the trial of Corey Murray, 34, and Curtis Murray, 30. They returned to the court just after 1 p.m. Saturday with the verdicts.
During the trial, jurors were shown surveillance video of two men shooting and stabbing Seraphine in the lobby of 44 Willowridge Rd. a highrise complex near Martin Grove Road and Eglinton Ave. W. in the early hours of March 21, 2015.
The central issue at trial was the identity of the assailants.
The Crown’s theory was that Curtis was the gunman who fired six shots at Seraphine, one of which hit him, and that Corey was the assailant who stabbed him in the back and chest.
The siblings had a motive, the prosecutors argued, but their victim was randomly targeted because of where the Murrays encountered him. The Crown said the Murrays went to Willowridge, armed and disguised, to take the life of someone connected to that building in order to avenge the actions of another man, Raushan Champagnie, and his associates. The jury heard about an escalating series of confrontations between the brothers and the “Champagnie group,” as they were described during the trial.
Curtis’s girlfriend testified Champagnie accosted Curtis at a nearby plaza in the early evening of March 18. According to her evidence, there was no known reason for the conflict nor any prior association between the men, nor did any of them have a connection to Seraphine, who went to Willowridge early that morning to visit a friend.
What allegedly pushed the Murrays over edge was a break-in at Curtis Murray’s apartment, in the nearby housing complex at 7 Richgrove Dr., on the night of March 19. Video footage showed Champagnie and two other men removing Curtis’s clothing and coveted footwear, and transporting the items to Willowridge, where the items were sold at an advertised “Block Friday Sale” the next day.
The case lasted weeks longer than expected due to lost video surveillance footage defence lawyers discovered midtrial. Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy found police neglected to preserve the “potentially relevant” footage, though she ruled it was not done deliberately. She told jurors it was up to them to determine the impact, if any, of the lost evidence.
Video surveillance was key to the prosecution case.
“The whole of the video evidence, standing alone,” was sufficient for jurors to establish the guilt of Curtis and Corey Murray, prosecutor Michael Wilson argued in his closing address. It “presents as the perfect witness, it’s not going to suffer memory loss” or have an interest in the outcome of the proceedings, he said. A lobby camera also recorded the teen’s final moments.
Wilson and co-counsel Michael Coristine argued exterior footage tracked the movements of a light-coloured, four-door sedan carrying the Murrays that evening and travelling between the two housing complexes.
“This is a vehicle searching,” for members of the Champagnie group, Wilson said, as the jury watched blurry images of a slow-moving car with a slanted hood and distinctive tail lights.
The jury also saw footage of the brothers in the lobby at Willowridge, less than an hour before the ambush, that captured Curtis removing a “Block Friday Sale” flyer taped to the door.
The last sequence showed a vehicle driving from Richgrove, where the brothers allegedly put on disguises and armed themselves before returning to Willowridge on their murderous mission, Wilson said.
The brothers stood trial on charges of first-degree murder, which requires planning and deliberation.
But Molloy told the jurors that if they believed the brothers were the killers, there were a number of ways they could also find them guilty of second-degree murder.
“If you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that there was planning and deliberation to kill one of the men involved in the various hostile actions against Curtis Murray, and Trevor Seraphine was killed, that would be second degree murder,” she instructed the jury before releasing them Thursday.
Also, if the jury decided the brothers killed Seraphine impulsively, or had a reasonable doubt as to the existence of planning or deliberation, that would be second-degree murder.
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Second-degree murder, like first degree, carries an automatic sentence of life in prison. But while first-degree murder has a parole ineligibility period of 25 years, those convicted of second-degree murder can be eligible for parole in as few as 10 years. On Saturday, the jurors recommended the brothers serve 25 years before becoming eligible to apply for parole.
Defence lawyers Sid Freeman, representing Curtis, and Adam Boni, counsel for Corey, argued the exterior footage of the suspect car was poor and incapable of establishing the pair’s whereabouts.
The prosecutors also told jurors the surveillance video allowed them to identify the shoes and clothing worn by the attackers as items similar to attire worn by the Murray brothers, again disputed by the defence lawyers.
A lot of court time was devoted to testimony about footwear.
The prosecutors alleged the shoes worn by the gunman were Curtis’s Nike Kobe 8 basketball shoes, described as “blitz blue” with an orange swoosh. The Crown called a Nike Inc. employee, who testified the shoe was released as a limited edition in Canada in 2013 and that 442 pairs were sold here, while acknowledging many more were also sold in the U.S. and online.
The Crown also alleged the shoes worn by the perpetrator with the knife were Nike Air Max 90s and that Corey Murray owned a pair. The Nike employee also provided details of those “limited edition” shoes with a distinctive red and black patterned sole. Nine hundred and twelve pairs were sold in Canada after they were introduced in the 2014 Christmas holiday season, jurors heard.
Neither brother testified.
Freeman, who represented Curtis, told the jury there was no reliable evidence backing up the Crown’s theory that he committed any retaliatory acts. There were no forensics, fingerprints, eyewitnesses, DNA or cellphone records placing him at the scene in what she told the jury was an entirely circumstantial case.
She suggested the police and prosecution discovered the “unrelated issue” of the Champagnie crew’s beef with the brothers and adopted that as the motive behind the Seraphine murder. It also made no sense, Freeman said, asking why they would target an innocent person at 44 Willowridge when all of the bullying incidents — except for Champagnie accosting Curtis at a nearby plaza — had occurred at 7 Richgrove.
Several times, Freeman also asked the jury to reject the Crown’s “angry, young Black man motive.”
She noted that at the time of the murder, Curtis was in physiotherapy for a back injury, which ruled him out as the shooter who ran away easily after taking a hard fall when he slipped on the wet grass.
Boni said the Crown’s case against Corey was extremely weak, and that its suggested motive — that Corey lashed out in a murderous rage against a stranger to avenge the theft and sale of his brother’s running shoes and clothes by people with no connection to the victim — was unsupported by the evidence.
The defence lawyer urged the jury to be wary of relying on any evidence that could not be corroborated because of the lost video, and said that the exterior footage did not put Corey inside the vehicle.