Two of three convicted in Just Desserts shooting
One of the longest criminal trials in Canadian history ended Saturday when a jury convicted two of three accused men of killing a woman at the Just Desserts cafe in Toronto five years ago.
Some of the members of the jury looked exhausted as they returned to a packed courtroom and delivered their verdict after six days of deliberation.
Lawrence Brown, 30, who defended himself in court, was found guilty of first-degree murder and 12 counts of robbery. He was immediately handed an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
"My only comment, if I had something to say, is to ask if you are kidding," Brown calmly told Judge Brian Trafford. "Other than that I don't have anything to say."
Gary Francis, 28, was found guilty of manslaughter and robbery. Francis, who now faces a maximum of 10 years for the manslaughter conviction, will be sentenced on Tuesday.
The third suspect, 27-year-old O'Neil Grant, was found not guilty on all charges.
"I just want to see my kids. I just want to see my mom," Grant said, grinning as he left the courthouse a free man. "I knew I was innocent and I knew that God would deliver me from my enemies."
The crime took place more than five years ago, in a trendy cafe in midtown Toronto.
It was shortly after 11 p.m. on April 5, 1994, when three young men, all black, entered Just Desserts, one of them armed with a shotgun. (A fourth member was believed to have been outside in a getaway car.) They herded customers to the back of the restaurant and began taking their money and valuables.
Among the patrons that night was a 23-year-old hairdresser, Georgina "Vivi" Leimonis. It was her first trip to the cafe. During the robbery - inexplicably - the gunman shot her in the chest. Less than four hours later she died on the operating table at St. Michael's Hospital. Her last words were, "Tell my mother I love her."
Within a few weeks Toronto police arrested four suspects, but the case quickly sank into a quagmire of legal arguments. For more than five years the accused and their lawyers fought to delay the trial.
Finally, on April 28, 1999, more than five years after the shooting, prosecutors began presenting evidence to the eight-man, four-woman jury. By that time the Crown had stayed the charges against one of the suspects, 28-year-old Mark Jones. A key statement implicating him in the robbery had been ruled as inadmissible evidence.
Sixty-eight witnesses were called to give evidence. Among the 252 exhibits was a grainy videotape from the restaurant's surveillance camera.
Outside the court, Leimonis' father, Jim, said he felt relieved the long ordeal was over. "Now I feel much better," he said. "Still I never forget ViVi."
Francis's lawyer, Paul Burstein, is planning to appeal his client's conviction.
"I think this case demonstrates what happens when you pile unreliable and biased opinions on top of unreliable surveillance videos, and how that can create a serious potential for miscarriages of justice," Burstein said.
Brown, who frequently swore and hurled insults at the judge and court officials during the trial, was cited for contempt after the jurors began their deliberations. He plans to represent himself once again.
There was no evidence to suggest that the killing was racially motivated. But the case ignited a national debate over immigration policy when politicians learned that one of the three suspects, all originally from Jamaica, had successfully fought a deportation order five months before the murder.
After being grilled by the Opposition about Grant's stayed deportation order, despite his lengthy criminal record, the federal government passed tougher immigration laws.