Surprise twist in Saskatoon murder trial turns on Boss suit jacket worn by accused
Daughters of victim Richard Fernuk called to testify as rebuttal witnesses
An offhand answer by accused killer Leo Daniels during cross-examination triggered the Crown calling Richard Fernuk's daughters to testify Friday.
Daniels is on trial at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon charged with first-degree murder in Fernuk's death. 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.
Friday's testimony concerned an oversized suit jacket Daniels is shown wearing in surveillance footage from the Circle K convenience store at Lorne Avenue and Ruth Street, taken hours after the Crown says Daniels murdered the Saskatoon senior.
On Thursday, defence lawyer Blaine Beaven asked Daniels why he chose to wear the ill-fitting suit jacket that he said he'd recently stolen from a garage.
Daniels replied it had "Boss" on the inside label and "I thought that was cool."
This prompted Leah Howie and Lindsey Dahl, Fernuk's daughters, to approach prosecutor Sheryl Fillo on a break. The admission by Daniels had triggered a specific memory of their father.
Fillo successfully applied to have Howie and Dahl called as rebuttal witnesses Friday.
They had told Fillo on Thursday that their father had stumbled across a Hugo Boss suit at a thrift store in the city some years back.
"He was thrilled to find an expensive piece of clothing in a thrift shop," Howie testified.
"He mentioned that several times over a period of months."
She said Fernuk had spoken about opening a consignment shop featuring used menswear but it never came to pass, "it was just one of his dreams."
Both sisters had attended the preliminary hearing and sat through two weeks of testimony. The remark by Daniels on Thursday was the first time he'd mentioned the brand of the jacket.
A circumstantial case
The testimony is potentially significant because the Crown's case is largely circumstantial.
Daniels admitted to befriending Fernuk outside the Fire Creek gas bar and then walking him toward his east-side apartment. Daniels said that he robbed Fernuk of his phone and bank cards near the Exhibition grounds, but then left to break into garages.
He testified that's when he came across the Boss suit jacket.
The only direct evidence potentially placing Daniels inside Fernuk's apartment is a DNA sample recovered from a fireplace poker. Justice Heather MacMillan-Brown could accept the Crown's theory that Daniels stole the Boss jacket from Fernuk's closet.
Defence lawyer Blaine Beaven honed in on that point when questioning Lindsey Dahl.
"Did you manufacture this memory to assist the prosecution," he asked.
"No," she replied.
Fillo and Beaven return to court Tuesday for final arguments.
- A previous version of this story stated that prosecutor Sheryl Fillo had asked Daniels on Thursday why he chose to wear the ill-fitting suit jacket that he said he'd recently stolen from a garage. In fact, defence lawyer Blaine Beaven asked the question.Apr 22, 2022 3:40 PM CT