'In a dream': Jason Wisdom on having his murder conviction stayed, release from prison

For the first time in 13 years, ex-gang member Jason Wisdom woke up on Friday in his own bed after having his murder conviction stayed.

Former Galloway Boys gang member was found guilty of murder for 2004 shooting death

Jason Wisdom spent 13 years in prison after being convicted of murder. (Yanjun Li/CBC)

For the first time in over a decade, Jason Wisdom woke up on Friday in his own bed.

He had spent the last 13 years, including all of his 20s, in prison.

"It feels like I'm waking up from a nightmare into a dream," the 32-year-old said after his charges were stayed. "​I'm still in a dream. I haven't touched down yet."

Wisdom spoke with CBC Toronto Friday, one night after he returned home to a big family dinner of Chinese takeout.

The night before that he was behind bars serving a life sentence for murder.

2004 shooting

In March 2004, Leonard Bell and his friend Brenton Charlton were driving to Home Depot when they were stopped at the intersection of Neilson Road and Finch Avenue East in Scarborough.

As they waited at the light, another vehicle pulled up and multiple bullets were fired into their car. Charlton was killed. Bell was hit several times, but survived.

One of Toronto's most violent gang leaders was sentenced to 18 years behind bars for his part in the shootings of two Scarborough men. 2:31

Toronto police arrested and charged three members of the notorious Galloway Boys gang: Tyshan Riley, the alleged leader, Phillip Atkins and Wisdom, who was 19 at the time.

The motive behind the shooting, police believed, was that the trio thought Charlton's car belonged to a rival gang.

Though Wisdom admits he was "involved in minor criminal activity" at the time, he said the extent of those activities involved drug-dealing and never "any violent crimes."

"I was shocked when I was charged with this offence because that's not in my nature," he said.

Wisdom says he was at home at the time of the shooting and only learned about it after seeing it on TV.

'Relative weakness of the Crown's case'

In 2009, Wisdom was found guilty of murder, attempted murder and murder to benefit a criminal organization.

He appealed the decision and in August, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that he was entitled to a new trial. On Thursday, the Crown chose to stay the charges against Wisdom and discontinue prosecution against him.

The decision to grant Wisdom a new trial hinged largely on the inclusion of evidence against him that the court decided had a "significant prejudicial effect" on the jury that convicted him.

That included details about Wisdom's participation in a 2004 plot to rob a Money Mart in Pickering, used as evidence to prove that he was an active member of the Galloway Boys.

Widsom described his time in prison as 'educational.' (Yanjun Li/CBC )

"Given the relative weakness of the Crown's case against Wisdom, it is not possible to conclude the admission of that evidence did not result in a miscarriage of justice," the decision from the Court of Appeal read.  

Widsom was released on Thursday and described the last 13 years in prison as "educational."  

"Unfortunately, I had to grow up in there... had to become a man in there," he said, adding he completed his high school education and some college courses while in custody.

"It's not like TV, that's for sure. It's terrible, to be honest with you."

'It's a slap in the face'

On Wednesday, Bell expressed his horror that Wisdom was to walk free.

"Our criminal justice [system] is slapping us all in the face. Not just myself, my family, and the police officers who worked vigorously, tirelessly, on this case," he told CBC Toronto.

"It's a slap in the face to the public in general that they'd want to release a notorious criminal back into our society."

Leonard Bell says he is still battling injuries related to the shooting. (CBC)

While two of the convicted men remain in jail, Bell, a contractor who still battles injuries related to the shooting, says that's very little comfort to him. He "won't take it sitting down," he said.

"If one convicted criminal is let loose on the street then we are all at risk," said the father of seven and grandfather of 15.

"I have to listen to my kids cry, my loved ones cry and I have to go through that all over again."

'Just happy to be home'

For his part, Wisdom hopes the families of the victims can find some closure and maintains his innocence.

"I wasn't involved in none of that," he said. "I'm empathetic. I feel for them."

Wisdom says he is now focused on restarting his life and moving on from his previous criminal lifestyle.

"No more jaywalking, no more nonsense," he said. 

Wisdom wants to finish his Business Management courses at Centennial College, and aims to get his air brake and heavy machinery licenses.

"I'm just happy to be home and start my adult life," he said.

"I'm only 32."

With files from CBC's Shannon Martin