Man charged in 2004 shooting to walk free after murder charges stayed

A man who spent more than a decade behind bars for a 2004 gang-related drive-by shooting will be released after charges against him were stayed on Thursday.

Jason Wisdom was granted new trial, but court decided to discontinue prosecution

Jason Wisdom was convicted in the death of Brenton Charlton, shown here, who was shot and killed in March 2004. (CBC News)

A man who spent more than a decade behind bars for a 2004 drive-by shooting is now free after charges against him were stayed on Thursday.   

Jason Wisdom had been convicted of murder, attempted murder and murder to benefit a criminal organization after a shooting that killed one man and injured another.

He appealed that decision, and in August, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that he was entitled to a new trial. On Thursday, the Crown chose to stay the charges and discontinue prosecution against him.

"Jason had said from day one that he was not there at the time of the shooting, that he was at home," Wisdom's lawyer James Lockyer told CBC Toronto on Thursday. "He spent a lot of time in jail for a crime he didn't commit."

Charges against Jason Wisdom were stayed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Thursday. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Mistaken identity shooting

Wisdom had been found guilty in 2009 along with two other men, Tyshan Riley and Philip Atkins.

Riley is known to have led the notorious street gang the Galloway Boys, with a Toronto police detective describing him as having no regard for human life and "playing God." 

The trio were charged in the March 2004 shooting of Leonard Bell and Brenton Charlton, two friends who were shot while they were stopped at an intersection on the way to Home Depot.

Charlton was killed and Bell was hit several times.

The motive behind the shooting, police believed, was that the three men thought Charlton's car belonged to a rival gang.

On Wednesday, Bell expressed his horror that Wisdom was to walk free.

"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," he told CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond.

Leonard Bell told CBC Toronto that the prospect of Wisdom being released was 'very troubling.' (CBC)

'Relative weakness' of case against Wisdom

The decision to grant Wisdom a new trial in August hinged largely on the inclusion of evidence against him that the court decided had a "significant prejudicial effect" on the jury that convicted him.

That included details about Wisdom's participation in a 2004 plot to rob a Money Mart in Pickering, used as evidence to prove that he was an active member of the Galloway Boys.

"Given the relative weakness of the Crown's case against Wisdom, it is not possible to conclude the admission of that evidence did not result in a miscarriage of justice," the decision from the Court of Appeal read.  

Other considerations in decision to stay charges: lawyer

Mark Halfyard, a criminal lawyer who followed Wisdom's case closely, said numerous factors contributed to the Crown's decision to stay the charges, including the cost of another trial and the fact that Wisdom had already served almost 13 years. 

"It starts to become at the point where it's just not in the public interest," said Halfyard. 

He also agreed with the Court of Appeal's assessment of the evidence. 

"The case against him was much weaker than the other two," he said. "There's no ballistics, no DNA, that kind of stuff." 

Halfyard said the Crown now has 12 months to bring the stayed charges back to life and prosecute, but said it's an option that's "rarely exercised." 

Criminal lawyer Mark Halfyard told CBC Toronto that there are a number of reasons why the Crown might opt not to continue prosecuting Wisdom. (CBC)