Saskatoon

Crown, defence present closing arguments in Leo Daniels murder trial

The Crown and defence both agree that Leo Daniels robbed Richard Fernuk in 2019. Now a Saskatoon judge must decide whether Daniels murdered him as well.

Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown reserves decision until Aug. 9

Richard Fernuk is shown at his daughter's wedding. Fernuk, 68, found dead and tied to a chair in his apartment on Aug. 3, 2019. (Submitted by Fernuk family)

The Crown and defence in the Leo Daniels murder trial made their final arguments Tuesday to a judge at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon.

Daniels is charged with first-degree murder, robbery and unlawful confinement in connection with the death of Richard Fernuk.

Fernuk, 68, was found dead and tied to a chair in his apartment on Aug. 3, 2019.

Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown heard from 20 witnesses, including the accused, over eight days of testimony. Both sides agree that the evidence is largely circumstantial — no one saw Daniels confine and kill Fernuk — so MacMillan-Brown must decide which narrative to accept.

"It's not about who murdered Richard Fernuk. It's about whether Leo Daniels did it," said defence lawyer Blaine Beaven.

"It is clear the accused's version cannot be believed," said prosecutor Sheryl Fillo.

Both sides agreed that Daniels encountered the 68-year-old when Fernuk was discharged from St. Paul's Hospital early in the morning of Aug. 2, 2019.

Fernuk had walked across the street to Fire Creek gas bar to charge his phone. The two men are captured on video talking outside the station and then later, on a series of different security cameras, walking east on 20th Street.

That is where the narratives diverge.

Daniels claims that he walked across the river with Fernuk and then robbed him near a large hill by the Exhibition grounds. He then continued through the neighbourhood looking for garages to break into, he says.

Fillo alleges that Daniels went with Fernuk to his apartment, where he tied him up and robbed him.

Investigators found a sample of Daniels's DNA on the hook end of a fireplace poker in the apartment.

Daniels denies going to the apartment with Fernuk.

A police officer snapped this photo of Leo Daniels shortly before his arrest. Daniels is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Fernuk's death. (Court of Queen's Bench)

Beaven said there are enough inconsistencies in the Crown's case to warrant an acquittal by reasonable doubt.

He noted that Daniels did not flee the city, evade police or attempt to dispose of any evidence. He also questioned how one person could have tied up Fernuk without sustaining injuries of their own, or leaving marks on Fernuk.

"We don't know what happened in that apartment," he said.

Fillo countered that it's important to remember that Daniels admitted to smoking, on average, 3.5-grams of crystal meth a day and that he said he drank a 26-ounce bottle of whisky immediately before meeting Fernuk. This, she said, should cast doubt about the reliability and credibility of anything he said.

"His memories are sketchy, cobbled together from what he's seen on the video," she said.

Fillo said that Daniels would "steal anything from anyone at any time — that's just what he did."

The robbery wasn't likely planned out beyond Daniels deciding to rob Fernuk when he saw he had a phone, Fillo said.

"We know that he went to his apartment because of the DNA. The only logical inference is that Leo Daniels was in that apartment."

Justice MacMillan-Brown will give her decision Aug. 9.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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