Webcam trial: Brian Dickson found guilty in murder of Qian Liu
WARNING: Some readers may find the details of this story disturbing
A jury found a 32-year-old man guilty of first-degree murder Monday in the death of a York University student from China.
Brian Dickson's lawyer had argued his client did not mean to kill Qian Liu in her off-campus basement apartment three years ago, urging the jury to find Dickson guilty of manslaughter.
After four hours of deliberations, the jury delivered the first-degree verdict, which means the jury believes Dickson intentionally killed the 23-year-old woman in the course of a sexual assault.
Liu's father wiped tears from his eyes as the verdict was delivered, while there was no reaction from Dickson.
Liu had been chatting via webcam with her ex-boyfriend in China in the early morning hours of April 15, 2011, when he saw a man force his way into Liu's room and knock her down.
Dickson's lawyer, Robert Nuttall, argued the pathological evidence fits with a scenario of Dickson sitting on Liu's chest with her neck cricked while he was "sexually excited."
The Crown's theory was that Dickson — who was a tenant in the same building — forced himself on Liu then killed her by mechanical asphyxiation to cover it up.
One forensic pathologist concluded Liu's cause of death was unascertained, though mechanical asphyxiation — which could include neck compression — was the best overall explanation. A second forensic pathologist definitively concluded it was mechanical asphyxiation.
'A very tough case'
"It was a very tough case. A very, very tragic case," Nuttall said after the verdict.
"The case hung on the mechanism of death. The jury struggled with it, the jury made their decision and they made their decision of first-degree murder," said Nuttall.
Nuttall said his client accepted the verdict.
"Mr. Dickson has always had his eyes wide open."
Outside court, Qian Liu’s parents spoke with members of the media about the verdict.
"We are still very sad," the slain woman’s father, Jian Hui Liu said through a translator. His wife clutched a picture of their daughter and cried silently.
"The jury system in Canada is very good and very fair."
Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy had told the jury they should have no difficulty finding that the man Liu's ex-boyfriend, Xian Meng, saw was Dickson.
Dickson forced his way inside while Liu was pushing at his chest and saying "no," Meng testified. Dickson pushed Liu down off camera and after the sound of two muffled bangs Meng said he heard no more sounds from Liu.
Computer turned off
After a period of silence he heard Dickson breathing heavily and moments later he appeared naked in front of the webcam and turned off the computer, Meng testified.
Liu was found dead mostly naked and face down on the floor of her room. An earring was missing from one ear, her nightgown was rolled up to her chest and her underwear and tights were in the corner of the room. Semen was found on her thigh and groin and a bodily fluid likely either semen or saliva was on her breasts.
The semen, which a forensic biologist testified matched Mr. Dickson's DNA to an astronomical probability, was not deposited on Liu until after she was dead, the Crown suggested. Blood — matched to a similarly high probability to Liu — was also found on a blue T-shirt belonging to Dickson.
No DNA other than Liu's was found inside her mouth or genitals, the jury heard.
Dickson was interviewed by police before he was arrested and at that time denied any involvement.
He told police he was briefly in her room several hours prior — they talked about cooking, he said. After spending several hours at a restaurant he came home went down to the laundry room, which was just outside Liu's bedroom, and transferred some clothes from the washing machine to the dryer, Dickson said.
He had consumed several drinks and took the drug Seroquel as a sleeping aid that night, Dickson said. When Dickson was arrested he had anti-psychotic medication and a drug typically used for depression or anxiety on him, court heard.
Nuttal said it's too early to say if Dickson will appeal the verdict.
"He's been absolutely remorseful for a very, very long period of time," he said.
Jury did not hear bail hearing evidence
The jury did not hear some evidence that was brought up during Dickson's bail hearing in January 2012.
At that time, Toronto police Det.-Sgt. Frank Skubic testified that Dickson had no criminal record, but that he had criminal charges withdrawn on three prior occasions.
On two of those occasions, the charges involved alleged crimes against women.
In one case, Skubic said a woman complained to police in 2006 that Dickson had penetrated her without her consent, after she had invited him back to her home for him to perform oral sex on her. The woman said she told Dickson to stop, but he allegedly told her to shut up. The Crown later withdrew the charge.
In a second case, Skubic said that a former girlfriend told police in 2008 that she and Dickson had been arguing about money near his parents’ home, as was cited in a police report.
"Grabbed the victim by the arms, dragging her out of sight of the house," Skubic quoted the police report as saying. "He then put his hands around her throat and began to choke her. She told him to 'Go ahead and kill me. I want you to go to jail.' Mr. Dickson then released her throat and with two of his fingers jammed them into the centre of her throat."
The woman decided not to proceed with charges.
A shoplifting allegation from 2008 was also withdrawn, Skubic said.
Skubic had also testified that police had found more than 100 pornographic DVDs in Dickson’s room. About half of these DVDs were Asian pornography, he said.
Skubic said police had looked at messages that Dickson allegedly posted online, including some that appeared to advocate having sex with children.
Dickson was denied bail by the judge at that hearing two years ago.