Galloway Boys gang member convicted of murder to walk free, shooting victim says
Leonard Bell, shot in a case of mistaken identity, says he was told Jason Wisdom will be released
A GTA man who was shot nine times in 2004 in a case of mistaken identity — a drive-by shooting that also killed his one of his best friends — says he's learned that one of the gang members convicted of murder could walk free as early as Thursday.
Leonard Bell, 57, says Victim/Witness Assistance Program told him Tuesday that after more than a decade behind bars Galloway Boys' gang member Jason Wisdom could soon be released.
Wisdom is set to appear in a downtown Toronto courtroom Thursday at 10 a.m.
"They are looking at releasing him back to the public," Bell told CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond as they stood together on the street corner where Bell was shot.
"Our criminal justice is slapping us all in the face. Not just myself, my family, and the police officers who worked vigorously, tirelessly, on this case.
"It's a slap in the face to the public in general that they'd want to release a notorious criminal back into our society."
CBC Toronto was not able to independently confirm Wednesday that Wisdom will be released.
This past summer, a lengthy and complex appeal process concluded with the court deciding to grant Wisdom a new murder trial, but according to Bell, that will no longer happen.
Not enough evidence
"They're saying they don't believe they could get a second conviction based on evidence that is not available," said Bell.
"One of the guys involved in the shooting was out on bail. If you keep putting these people back on the street, you're putting more people at risk. This, to me, is very troubling."
In March 2004, Bell and his friend Brenton Charlton were driving to Home Depot when they were stopped at the intersection of Neilson Road and Finch Avenue East in Scarborough.
While waiting at the light, another vehicle pulled up and multiple bullets were fired into their car. Charlton was killed. Bell was hit several times, but survived.
Toronto police arrested and charged three members of the notorious Galloway Boys gang: Tyshan Riley, the alleged leader, Phillip Atkins and Wisdom.
The motive behind the shooting, police believed, was that the trio thought Charlton's car belonged to a rival gang.
At the time, Det. Wayne Banks said this was part of the "gang atmosphere," calling Riley the "purest form of human evil" who enjoyed "playing God."
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In 2009, all three were found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
All appealed their convictions, Wisdom won a new trial while Riley's and Atkins's appeals were unsuccessful. Both remain behind bars.
The issue with bad character evidence
This summer, a judge said an unrelated plan to rob a Money Mart was submitted as evidence against Wisdom, and that while that evidence did little to prove the murder charges, it greatly influenced the jury and could have led to a miscarriage of justice.
The Crown used Wisdom's participation in the planned heist as proof he was an active member of the Galloway Boys.
"What the court has to do is balance between the probative — does it actually speak to fact of his involvement versus the prejudicial effect, that he was involved in a prior criminal act," said Toronto criminal defence lawyer Kim Schofield, who was not directly involved the case.
Schofield said in the vast majority of cases, especially serious ones like this, a new trial is often ordered.
But she added: "There must have been very good reason. This was an important part of their case they're not able to use. And on the Crown's assessment the rest of the evidence is not enough."
'Very little comfort'
While two of the convicted men remain in jail, Bell, a contractor who still battles injuries related to the shooting, says that's very little comfort to him.
He "won't take it sitting down," he said.
"If one convicted criminal is let loose on the street than we are all at risk," said the father of seven and grandfather of 15.
"I have to listen to my kids cry, my loved ones cry and I have to go through that all over again."
With files from Dwight Drummond, Trevor Dunn