Nova Scotia

Harley Lawrence murder trial preliminary hearing begins

A preliminary hearing for the two men accused of first-degree murder in the death of Harley Lawrence began Monday.

Homeless man's body found in a burned-out bus shelter in Berwick, N.S., in 2013

Harley Lawrence was homeless and sleeping on the streets of Berwick when he was killed. (Courtesy of Debbie Saltzman)

A preliminary hearing began Monday for two men accused of first-degree murder in the death of Harley Lawrence, a homeless man who was found dead in a burned-out bus shelter in Berwick, N.S.

Daniel Wayne Surrette and Kyle David James Fredericks appeared in court in Kentville, N.S.

Lawrence's body was found Oct. 23, 2013, in Berwick, a small town in the Annapolis Valley about 120 kilometres northwest of Halifax. At the time, he was homeless and sleeping on the streets of Berwick.

The preliminary hearing heard from seven of an estimated dozen witnesses who are expected to testify over seven days, spread out over the next three weeks.

The lawyers for the two accused had been willing to let their clients go to trial directly on second-degree murder charges. The preliminary hearing is being held to determine whether the Crown has enough evidence to proceed with first-degree murder charges.

All of the evidence is banned from publication until the case is resolved.

Present at the preliminary hearing was Ron Lawrence, a brother of the deceased. He said it was difficult being in court, especially since his brother Maynard died just last week.

Ron Lawrence said Maynard had offered him comfort and support in the earlier stages of this legal saga.​

He said he was there to make sure no one forgets his brother Harley or what was done to him.

"It's been a long journey. And it's going to be longer, but I'm here for the long term," he said.

Accused have checkered pasts

Both of the accused have sordid histories with Nova Scotia's justice system.

Surette pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a female victim who was under the age of 16 in late December 2010. He was sentenced to 90 days in custody and placed on probation.

He pleaded guilty to assaulting his mother on New Year's Day in 2011. He received a one-year suspended sentence in that case.

Fredericks was tried and acquitted in the death of Joshua Graves, who died on March 19, 2011, after taking a lethal mix of alcohol and Dilaudid at a house party in the Annapolis Valley the previous night.

Police said that as far as they know, there is no relationship between the two accused and the victim.