Guido Amsel found guilty of attempted murder in Winnipeg mail bombing case

Guido Amsel, 52, has been found guilty of attempting to murder his ex-wife and two lawyers in a Winnipeg mail bombing case.

Amsel, 52, was found guilty of 15 charges, including 4 attempted murder charges

Guido Amsel, 52, pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder, one count of aggravated assault and a number of weapons offences. (Winnipeg Police Service)

Guido Amsel, 52, has been found guilty of attempting to murder his ex-wife and two lawyers in a Winnipeg mail bombing case.

Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord convicted Amsel on Thursday of the 2013 attempted murder of his ex-wife, Iris Amsel. She also found him guilty of a second attempt to murder the woman in 2015.

As well, Amsel was convicted in the 2015 attempt to murder lawyers Maria Mitousis and George Orle. The judge found him not guilty of the attempted murder of James Block, Iris Amsel's boyfriend.

Lord began delivering her televised ruling at 2 p.m. CT. Amsel, dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and red tie with short neat hair, was escorted out by sheriffs after the ruling.

As he walked out of court, he said, "I can't believe that."

His current wife was visibly distraught, stopping as she walked to lean against the wall while sobbing. Friends comforted her.

Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord, sketched in November 2017, delivered her verdict Thursday afternoon. (CBC)

Victor Bargen, a Winnipeg lawyer who worked with Orle in 2015, said he's pleased by the ruling. He remembered the bombing as a tough day for everyone.

"The legal community, I think, is looking for and hoping for some closure here," he said.

"But no one, based on this last incident, should feel really safe at work. And I'm not saying that to be alarmist or to frighten people. But we always think this can happen in other places. Well, it can happen here, too, and it did."

Rudy Mooyman, a longtime friend of Amsel's, told media after the decision that he maintains Amsel's innocence.

"It's a darn shame," he said.

CBC News carried Lord's decision live online. While cameras are generally not allowed in Manitoba courtrooms, exceptions are made for certain high-profile cases.

Watch Judge Tracey Lord describe Amsel's allegations, accusations and attempts to explain 'otherwise incriminating evidence':

Amsel's testimony 'too coincidental' to be credible: Judge Tracey Lord 2:20

The verdict comes several months after Amsel's trial began on Oct. 24, 2017. The trial lasted eight weeks and heard from dozens of witnesses, including Iris Amsel, who was a client of Mitousis.

The charges stemmed from a bomb left at Amsel's home on Dec. 13, 2013, and three bombs sent in 2015.

Two of the bomb packages from 2015 were safely detonated by police — one at Orle's law office and one at an auto body shop where Iris Amsel worked — but a third went off in Mitousis's hand at her River Avenue office. Court heard the bomb had been placed in an audio recorder and went off when she pressed play. She lost her right hand and suffered serious burns in the explosion.

Guido Amsel had pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder, one count of aggravated assault and several explosives-related offences in connection with three bomb packages sent by Canada Post in July 2015 and a December 2013 explosion at his ex-wife's home in the rural municipality of St. Clements. No one was injured in that incident.

He was found guilty of 15 charges, including four of the attempted murder charges and other explosives-related charges.

He was found not guilty of four charges, including the attempted murder of Block and endangering lives of other employees at the law firm where Orle worked and the auto body shop.

Judge dismisses 'conveniently designed' DNA explanations

Lord began by reading a summary of her decision to a silent courtroom. Amsel's wife and her friends were present, as were onlookers and the media.

As Lord spoke, Amsel's wife had her hands on her face, looking down. Lord told the court she accepted some, but not all, of Amsel's testimony.

Lord said she did not accept Amsel's contention that he wasn't angry with his ex-wife, or that his DNA got onto key items of evidence innocently.

Amsel suggested, for instance, that he'd left DNA on a piece of string linked to the 2013 bombing when he helped Iris Amsel insulate the garage at the property more than 20 years previously. He also testified he could have left DNA on a pouch linked to the bombing in Mitousis's office by touching it at a Dollarama, where the bag had been purchased, or that his DNA could have been transferred onto the pouch after the fact.

"I do not accept the possible innocent explanations provided by Mr. Amsel. I find them to be conveniently designed to accord with [DNA expert] Mr. Lett's expert evidence and the evidence suggesting where the pouch may have been purchased," Lord said.

"The explanations are in my view entirely too remote and coincidental when viewed in the context of the evidence as a whole to be credible."

Winnipeg lawyer Victor Bargen worked with George Orle when the office received a bomb in 2015. (CBC)

Lord characterized Amsel's evidence during the trial as "replete with allegations and accusations about those involved in this case," including Mitousis and Iris Amsel, whom he accused of stealing millions from their shared business and conspiring with law enforcement and legal counsel to evade responsibility.

"The allegations were based on nothing more than speculation on his part, resulting in conclusory statements that lacked factual or logical foundation," she said.

The court heard Guido Amsel filed for divorce in 2001, about 10 years after he and Iris Amsel immigrated to Canada from their native Germany. Their divorce was finalized in August 2004, but the two continued to work together at two auto body businesses Amsel had started.

A year later, Guido Amsel married a woman from the Philippines. He had met her online. At that point, he and his ex-wife each took ownership of one of the auto body shops and divided their assets.

Iris Amsel testified that she continued to work with her ex-husband until 2009, when he "forced me out," after learning she had assumed a fake online identity years earlier in an effort to disrupt his relationship with his new wife.

She admitted to creating a fake online identity of a man named Adrian prior to his new marriage, but denied contacting his soon-to-be wife directly. 

Winnipeg lawyer Maria Mitousis lost her right hand and suffered serious injuries after a letter bomb exploded in her River Avenue office July 3, 2015. (John Einarson/CBC)

Guido Amsel's lawyer, Saheel Zaman, also accused Iris Amsel of sending dead flowers to the woman after a motorcycle accident, and said that when he asked her to send a letter to Immigration Canada in support of his new wife, she wrote that the woman was a prostitute.

His ex-wife denied both allegations. 

In 2010, she hired Mitousis and sued Amsel for money she said she was owed after the divorce. Amsel later filed a countersuit, which remained unresolved at the time of his 2015 arrest. 

Amsel told the judge his ex stole $4 million from his business after their divorce and his lawyers accused her of mailing the letter bombs to herself and the two law firms in order to blame her ex-husband and interfere with his countersuit.

DNA tied Guido Amsel to bombs

Court testimony revealed Amsel's DNA had been found on a piece of string found near a crater left by a 2013 explosion outside Iris Amsel's house and on a plastic pouch that held the digital recorder delivered to Mitousis. The Crown argued the string was part of a "tripwire" used to detonate the bomb, which the defence denied.

Two of the people who handled the bomb package at the autobody shop testified the handwriting on the package matched Amsel's. Two police officers testified aspects of Amsel's handwriting were to the handwriting on bomb packages. An FBI handwriting expert also testified the writing on all the bomb packages was similar, but said he couldn't offer a conclusion whether it matched Amsel's.

In December 2017, Lord ruled there were enough similarities and linkages between the three bombing events from July 2015 and the 2013 explosion that they were not coincidental and were the responsibility of the same person.

Her decision came after prosecutors argued a similar fact motion that would allow Lord to use the evidence of one bombing incident to assess another.

The Crown and defence will be back in court next Friday to set a date for the sentencing hearing.

Provincial court Judge Tracey Lord delivered her decision in the case of accused mail bomber Guido Amsel. 37:14

Click here to read Lord's full ruling.

About the Author

Aidan Geary

Reporter

Aidan Geary is a journalist at CBC Manitoba. Connect with her at aidan.geary@cbc.ca.

With files from Dean Pritchard