Toronto

Galloway Boys gang member convicted of murder to walk free, shooting victim says

A GTA man who was shot nine times in a 2004 gang shooting that also killed one of his best friends, says he's learned that one of the men convicted of murder in the case could walk free as early as Thursday.

Leonard Bell, shot in a case of mistaken identity, says he was told Jason Wisdom will be released

Leonard Bell says he's extremely troubled to hear a member of the Galloway Boys convicted in the 2004 murder of his friend could soon be released. (CBC)

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."

Bell and his friend Brenton Charlton, pictured here, were stopped at a traffic light when a car pulled up and the occupants opened fire, killing Charlton in March 2004. (CBC News)

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.

Tyshan Riley, the former kingpin of the notorious Toronto gang Galloway Boys, found guilty of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder in connection with a string of shootings in 2004, remains behind bars. ((Alex Tavshunsky/CBC))

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."

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.

Criminal Defence lawyer Kim Schofield on the Wisdom case: 'Keep in mind the basis of the new trial ordered was the inability to use certain kind of evidence, which was not in any way direct evidence of [Wisdom's] involvement in the offence.' (Provided)

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."

Leonard Bell speaks with CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond on the street corner where he was shot and his friend was killed. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/ CBC Toronto)

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

With files from Dwight Drummond, Trevor Dunn

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