British Columbia

Appeal hearing begins for man convicted of murdering Japanese exchange student in Vancouver

The man found guilty of murdering a Japanese exchange student and stuffing her body into a suitcase in Vancouver began arguing the appeal of his case on Friday, nearly two years to the day after his conviction.

William Schneider was convicted of 2nd-degree murder in the death of Natsumi Kogawa

The body of Natsumi Kogawa, 30, was found in a suitcase outside the Gabriola Mansion in Vancouver's West End on Sept. 28, 2016. William Schneider was convicted of second-degree murder in relation to her death in October 2018. (Vancouver Police Department)

The man found guilty of murdering a Japanese exchange student and stuffing her body into a suitcase in Vancouver began arguing the appeal of his case on Friday, nearly two years to the day after his conviction.

William Schneider, 53, is looking to have his conviction quashed and a new trial ordered in connection with the 2016 death of Natsumi Kogawa, 30.

His lawyer has suggested that the judge in Schneider's original trial made mistakes in her responses to questions from the jury, her instructions to the jury and her decision to accept overheard statements as evidence.

"These issues and errors, had they not been made, the jury might have acquitted Mr. Schneider or convicted him of manslaughter," lawyer Christopher Nowlin told a panel of justices during a virtual hearing before the B.C. Court of Appeal on Friday.

Schneider, 53, did not appear by video during the proceedings, which were conducted over Zoom. 

A jury found him guilty of second-degree murder on Oct. 19, 2018 in connection with Kogawa's death, and he was sentenced to life with no parole for 14 years.

William Victor Schneider, right, seen here in a surveillance photo with Natsumi Kogawa before her death. (CBC)

Kogawa had been studying English in Vancouver on a student visa when she went missing in September 2016.

A tip from Schneider's brother led to the discovery of Kogawa's naked body inside a black suitcase on the grounds of the once-abandoned Gabriola Mansion in Vancouver's West End on Sept. 28, 2016 — more than two weeks after her friends reported her missing.

Days before the jury found him guilty of murder, Schneider pleaded guilty to interfering with human remains or offering an indignity to a human body in relation to the case.

Much of Friday's hearing hinged on Nowlin's arguments concerning B.C. Supreme Court Justice Laura Gerow's response to a single question from the jury about the definition of bodily harm during the 2018 trial.

Kogawa's body was found inside a black suitcase abandoned outside the Gabriola Mansion. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

He said the judge wasn't sure exactly what the jury was asking and answered incorrectly when she should have asked the jury for clarity.

"We're in this problem today and it couldn't have been easily avoided," Nowlin told the hearing. "It's a very, very important question."

He also suggested the judge erred in accepting overheard statements made during a phone conversation between Schneider and his wife. Schneider's brother, Warren Schneider, went to police after overhearing William Schneider tell his wife "I did it. I killed her," during a phone conversation.

Nowlin said it was "unreasonable and incorrect" for the judge to leave it up to the jury to decide whether that was a confession of murder. That determination, he told the court, was one for the judge to make.

Judge didn't make mistakes, Crown lawyer says

Crown lawyer Gil McKinnon briefly began laying out his response to those arguments during Friday's hearing, saying the jury's question on bodily harm did not require clarification and the judge did not err in how she dealt with the overheard statement from Schneider.

But those arguments were cut short by technical difficulties, as McKinnon was dialling into the hearing from Egypt. The proceedings are set to resume on Monday morning.

Emiko Kogawa, the mother of Natsumi Kogawa, attended every day of William Schneider's murder trial in 2018. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Schneider's original trial heard evidence that Kogawa and Schneider were acquaintances before the murder. They had met up on the afternoon of Sept. 8, 2016, to go to Stanley Park — Schneider told police he was expecting to have sex with her in a tent.

Schneider killed Kogawa that day, later disposing of her clothes, belongings and his tent. He was arrested in Vernon's Polson Park hours after Kogawa's decomposing body was found.

Forensic pathologists were not able to determine Kogawa's cause of death, but prosecutors theorized Schneider had strangled or suffocated her. When detectives interviewed Schneider and asked him how Kogawa died, Crown said Schneider twice made a gesture covering his mouth and nose.

The convicted killer filed an appeal of the murder conviction in May 2019. The hearing was originally set for May but was delayed as a result of the pandemic.

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