The killer of a man seen in a widely publicized photo tied to the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford crack cocaine video scandal has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter for the slaying.
The plea deal comes just over 2½ months after admitted killer Nisar Hashimi turned himself in to police in connection with the shooting death of Anthony Smith outside a Toronto nightclub in March. It also means evidence surrounding the crack video controversy won't have to be presented in open court.
Instead, Hashimi has agreed to a sentence of nine years in prison. In exchange, the Crown will not have to present disclosure to the defence, and the police evidence in his case — including wiretaps, surveillance, and any seized cellphones, laptops or videos — won’t be presented in open court.
Toronto criminal defence lawyer Edward Sapiano, who is not involved in the case, called the plea deal "unprecedented."
"In 20 years of practice I have never seen a guilty plea on a homicide without disclosure," said Sapiano. "And in less than three months! There is absolutely something going on here."
"The questions over Rob Ford's possible involvement [with alleged drug dealers] will remain unanswered as a result," he said.
Smith's killing, and Ford's possible ties to drug dealers in the Dixon Road area, became the subject of intense questioning of Toronto police Chief Bill Blair earlier this month. Blair was pressed on whether Ford had been implicated in drug use, or caught on video, as the police chief detailed the arrests tied to a police crackdown on the gang, the Dixon City Bloods.
"I cannot disclose to you any of the evidence that we have seized in this case. It'll come out in court," Blair told a throng of reporters. "We have gathered evidence pertaining to murders and to attempted murders, and that forms part of the prosecution we are bringing forward. But the evidence as it relates to those offences must come out in court and not at a press conference."
But the plea deal for Hashimi means none of the evidence in what was the most serious criminal charge from Project Traveller — first-degree murder — will ever be revealed in court.
Killing became fodder in Ford crack scandal
The shooting of Smith might otherwise have passed with little notice by mainstream media had a now-infamous photo not surfaced, showing Smith alongside Ford. The photo was first published in the Toronto Star and on the U.S. website Gawker, in separate reports that drug dealers were trying to sell a video of Toronto's mayor smoking crack cocaine. The two outlets were provided with the photo as evidence Ford was hanging out with drug dealers.
CBC News has not seen the video and cannot verify its contents or existence.
'I cannot disclose to you any of the evidence that we have seized in this case. It’ll come out in court.' —Toronto police Chief Bill Blair
Smith has never been publicly identified by police as a drug dealer, but today in court the Crown revealed police believe Smith and his associates were members for the Dixon City Bloods and that Smith was taking instructions from the gang.
Smith's friends Muhammad Khattak and Monir Kassimm, who were also pictured in the photograph posing with Ford, were arrested earlier this month in a series of raids cracking down on the Dixon Bloods, who according to police were trafficking millions of dollars worth of guns, cocaine, hashish and crystal meth from the U.S., through Windsor to Toronto.
In an agreed statement of facts, Hashimi admitted that he and an associate were in a dispute with Smith and his gang, and that the shooting outside the nightclub erupted as part of an escalating war.
Crown prosecutor Mary Misener read out the statement, saying that it was Smith who, acting on a text message of coded instructions from a member of his gang, initiated a fight with Hashimi and his associates.
Hashimi admits to pulling out a handgun and firing multiple shots in short succession, and then fleeing by car. The prosecutor said the Crown accepts that Hashimi did not intend to kill Smith or injure one of his associates (Khattak), but that the killing happened in the heat of a fight with Hashimi’s "capacity" diminished by drugs and alcohol mixed with cough syrup.
The prosecutor told the court that Toronto police completed a competent investigation and that based on a review of the evidence, a manslaughter conviction "properly" addressed Hashimi's legal culpability.
"We are well aware of the tragic consequences of gun violence in public places in our community and of our duty to vigorously prosecute the perpetrators of these gravely dangerous crimes," Misener told the court.
"Mindful of duty, we have determined that acceptance of Mr. Hashimi's pleas to manslaughter in the death of Anthony Smith and aggravated assault in the injuring of Mohammaed Khattak properly and justly reflects the extent of Mr. Hashimi's legal culpability on the evidence in this case."
Hashimi's co-accused, Hanad Mohamed, was arrested in Fort McMurray, Alta., in May. He has been charged with the murder of Smith and the attempted murder of Khattak. Mohamed's case is still before the courts.
Media seek to unseal police evidence
Meanwhile, CBC News and other media organizations are bringing court applications in Toronto asking a judge to unseal various search warrants and police documents tied to the ongoing drug investigations, so that the public can know whether Toronto's mayor is in any way implicated in illegal activity.
Ford insists he does not use crack cocaine and has denied allegations he has been captured on video smoking a crack pipe — an alleged video which has yet to surface publicly.