Windsor man guilty of murder

A Windsor, Ont., man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in a case that was linked to an investigation of illegal juror background checks.

Case linked to illegal juror background checks

A Windsor, Ont., man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in a case that was linked to an investigation of illegal juror background checks.

The jury returned its verdict around 12:45 p.m. Thursday after deliberating since late Wednesday afternoon.

Shane Huard was accused in the shooting death of Troy Hutchinson, 28, on Aug. 27, 2006, in Windsor. Hutchinson was found in a residential area on Windsor's east side, bleeding from a single gunshot wound to his stomach.

The Crown did not argue that Huard fired the shot, only that he provided the weapon. A second accused is expected to stand trial later this year.

Court heard that Hutchinson, a recent immigrant from Jamaica and a known drug dealer, had been involved in a stabbing days before the killing, and that his death appeared to be an act of retaliation.

The jury had the option of finding Huard not guilty, or guilty of manslaughter, second-degree murder or first-degree murder.

A conviction of first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Defence lawyer Greg Goulin said his client is considering appealing the verdict.

In his charge to the jury Wednesday, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas warned jurors to be cautious when examining the testimony of five Crown witnesses he called "unsavoury" because they were either drug addicts, drug dealers or were involved in criminal activity.

The Crown said their testimony was supported by phone records and other documents.

Background checks led to to mistrial

Huard initially faced trial alongside Richard Zoldi, a second Windsor man also charged with first-degree murder in Hutchinson's death.

The cases were severed after the judge declared a mistrial two months into proceedings in the summer of 2009, when it was revealed police had conducted extensive background checks on potential jurors and then provided that information to the Crown but not the defence.

Two Crown attorneys used that information to select a jury for the initial trial in March 2009.

Background checks on jurors are supposed to be conducted only to find out about the most serious convictions. Under Canadian law, Crown or defence counsel are supposed to know only the name, address and occupation of prospective jurors. The court can only dismiss a potential juror if that person has been convicted of an indictable offence as an adult for which they have not been pardoned, or if they have served more than 12 months in jail.

In the Huard and Zoldi trial, police flagged potential jurors with convictions as young offenders, and included the juror's opinion of police based on, for example, their writing a letter to the editor criticizing police.

Following the revelations in Windsor and also in Barrie and Thunder Bay, Ontario's privacy commissioner quickly launched a four-month investigation into whether background checks had violated the privacy rights of prospective jurors.

Ann Cavoukian later released a 213-page report that found nearly one-third of the 55 Crown attorney's offices in Ontario had received information gleaned from background checks that violated privacy legislation.

She ordered an immediate stop to the practice and asked the province's attorney general to create a single, centralized juror-screening process to minimize unnecessary background checks.