Saskatoon

Accused killer in Saskatoon murder trial testifies about encounter with victim

Leo Daniels testified Thursday at his first-degree murder trial,

Leo Daniels says he robbed Richard Fernuk but did not kill the senior

A police officer snapped this photo of Leo Daniels shortly before his arrest. (Court of Queen's Bench)

Leo Daniels testified that he robbed Richard Fernuk on the street in August 2019, but said he did not murder the Saskatoon senior in his apartment.

Daniels did not account for how his DNA ended up on a fireplace poker in Fernuk's apartment.

Daniels, 39, is on trial at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon charged with first-degree murder, robbery and unlawful confinement. Prosecutor Sheryl Fillo closed the Crown's case on Wednesday. On Thursday, defence lawyer Blaine Beaven called Daniels to tell his version of events.

"Did you tie up Richard Fernuk?" Beaven asked.

"No."

"Did you kill Richard Fernuk?"

"No."

"Did you rob him?"

"Yeah."

Fernuk, 68, was found dead, tied to a chair, in his apartment on Aug. 3, 2019. An autopsy revealed he died of ligature strangulation caused by an electrical cord wrapped around his neck.

Daniels testified that he'd been smoking meth and drinking whisky behind the Fire Creek gas bar on 20th Street when he met Fernuk, who had just been released from St. Paul's Hospital.

Fernuk had gone to the hospital earlier that same evening by ambulance, complaining of chest pains. Daniels said that Fernuk was at the gas bar trying to find a charger for his cell phone.

Richard Fernuk at his daughter's wedding. (Submitted by Fernuk family)

Daniels said that at that point in his life, he'd been regularly using meth and selling it "to street people and hookers" while financing his addiction with petty theft. He alternated between living with his sister in an apartment across from St. Paul's Hospital and living with a succession of girlfriends.

Beaven reviewed Daniels's criminal record, noting how it went back to 1999 and was marked primarily by theft and breach convictions.

Daniels testified that Fernuk, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and cut-offs, looked cold so he offered him a jacket. The two men eventually walked east on 20th Street, making their way to a bridge that would lead them to the Exhibition area where Fernuk lived.

Daniels says that he robbed Fernuk after crossing the river, threatening him with a rock and demanding his wallet and cellphone. Daniels said Fernuk turned over the cards in his wallet and his phone, and then the two parted ways.

"Standing in the middle of the Exhibition is where I left him. I turned my back and walked away, and that was it," he said.

Daniels said he then spent the balance of the night "garage shopping" for places to break into, eventually getting into a garage and stealing a box of suits he intended to sell for drug money. He said he ended up wearing one of them, even though it was too large, because it had "Boss" on the inside label and "I thought that was cool."

Later that day, he sold the cellphone to one of his cousins at the Senator Hotel, he said. He testified that no one wanted to buy the suits so he threw them out.

Prosecutor Sheryl Fillo offered an alternative explanation through her cross examination.

She proposed that Daniels had identified Fernuk as a vulnerable target when they met at the gas bar and that he walked all the way home with him, intending to steal what he could from the apartment.

Daniels denied that.

Fillo also suggested that, by Daniels's account, Fernuk would have been unlucky to be robbed outside by Daniels and then again later, inside his apartment, by someone else entirely.

"Apparently so," Daniels said.

After her cross examination, Fillo applied to call a rebuttal witness. Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown will rule on that Friday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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