Brian Thomas found guilty of 2nd-degree murder for stabbing bus driver Irvine Fraser
Irvine Jubal Fraser, 58, died after being stabbed multiple times by Brian Kyle Thomas on Feb. 14, 2017
A jury has convicted Brian Kyle Thomas of second-degree murder in the death of Winnipeg Transit driver Irvine Jubal Fraser.
Thomas, 24, pleaded not guilty in the Feb. 14, 2017, stabbing death of Fraser. Thomas's defence said during the trial there was no doubt Thomas stabbed Fraser, but argued it was Fraser who escalated the confrontation.
The 12-member jury at Thomas's trial, made up of eight women and four men, began deliberating at 2:30 p.m. CT on Thursday. They said shortly before 5 p.m. that they had reached a verdict.
The second-degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence. Thomas will not be eligible for parole for a period of 10 to 25 years, to be determined by the court. Jurors unanimously declined to offer any recommendations on how long parole eligibility should be set.
Thomas's defence has asked for a Gladue report, which provides a court with information about an Indigenous offender's personal background to be considered in sentencing.
The union representing Winnipeg Transit workers said in a statement it hopes the verdict provides closure for Fraser's family.
"Every worker has a right to [a] safe and respectful workplace. No one deserves to be assaulted or killed on the job," said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Aleem Chaudhary.
"We will continue to push for a workplace where our operators and passengers feel safe. We welcome the collaboration of the public, all levels of the [government] and our members in working together to reach that goal."
Video showed confrontation
Thomas's trial heard he and Fraser got into a fight after Thomas refused to get off Fraser's bus when it reached its last stop at the University of Manitoba early on Feb. 14. Fraser forcefully removed Thomas from the bus, after which the two fought outside the Winnipeg Transit vehicle.
An autopsy showed Fraser died from multiple stab wounds, including one in his neck that severed his jugular vein and punctured his trachea.
Thomas, who was intoxicated at the time, got on Fraser's bus at a stop downtown around 1:30 a.m. He fell asleep and was woken up by Fraser when he reached his last stop.
Security camera video from inside Fraser's bus, which was played for the jury at the trial, showed Fraser repeatedly telling Thomas to get off the bus, becoming increasingly agitated and swearing at Thomas, who said he didn't want to get off and asked Fraser to drive him somewhere else.
Eventually, Fraser is seen in the video grabbing Thomas and forcing him off the bus. Thomas can be heard swearing at Fraser trying to punch him as he stands in the doorway, blocking Thomas from getting back on the bus.
Witnesses at the trial testified that Thomas spat at Fraser, at which point Fraser got off the bus and the two continued fighting outside. Grainy video taken from a second bus that drove up behind Fraser's appears to show Fraser being stabbed before pulling away and falling to the ground, as Thomas walks away.
Winnipeg police officers found Thomas trying to walk across the frozen Red River following the stabbing. After officers arrested him on the ice, Thomas refused to walk and lifted his feet off the ground, which caused him and the officers to fall repeatedly and forced officers to drag Thomas off the ice.
Two months later, police found a silver kitchen knife on the east side of the river.
Thomas claimed self-defence
Thomas's lawyers argued he acted in self-defence. In his closing address on Wednesday, defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg alleged it was Fraser who first produced a weapon — a knife, scissors or some other sharp object — and Thomas picked it up off the ground when Fraser dropped it.
During the closing address, Roitenburg said cuts on Thomas's right ear, which required stitches, were not from being dragged along ice during his arrest, but from the sharp object he says Fraser was wielding.
Crown prosecutor Keith Eyrikson urged the jury to reject the self-defence argument. Thomas lured Fraser to fight so he could stab him and get revenge for being kicked of Fraser's bus, Eyrikson argued.
The trial, which began on Jan. 21, was overseen by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal.
Death sparked calls for driver safety
After Fraser's death, Transit drivers came forward with other reports of violence they regularly experience on the job.
The city announced a package of safety improvements that included testing driver safety shields and the hiring of additional supervisors who serve as transit security personnel.
On Thursday, the city approved a $3.15-million plan to install driver safety shields on all 630 Winnipeg Transit buses. Last week, council's executive policy committee amended the plan to require the work be completed before February 2020.
With files from Laura Glowacki and Bartley Kives