Statements to RCMP by a crack addict who overdosed and died mid-trial — before he could testify — were enough to convict Brandon Schell of shooting another man, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Friday.
Schell, 29, will face a five-year minimum sentence on counts of firing a prohibited weapon and aggravated assault. He was found guilty of shooting Arthur Burley in the shoulder, after Burley stood up in the apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2011, to challenge the drug enforcer.
Justice Dev Dley found Schell not guilty of extortion, however, based on uncertainty of evidence about whether it was he or another man identified as "Trey" who threatened addicts if they did not purchase drugs from them.
Schell will be sentenced at a later date.
The two-week trial hinged on identifying Schell as "Cheddar" — the name by which the drug users knew him — as the shooter. The prosecution alleged the two men threatened crack users if they did not purchase drugs from them.
When Burley, who was visiting friends in the apartment, stood up to challenge them, Dley said Cheddar shot him through the shoulder.
Neither Burley nor a number of witnesses in the apartment that night were able to identify the shooter. But Dley said statements by Richard Brown, who rented the apartment and saw the shooting, to police is enough to convict Schell.
Brown died Oct. 10 of a suspected overdose, in the midst of the trial and before he could testify. But Dley found his statements to police were admissible as evidence.
Brown identified Schell in a police photograph line-up. He told police he was keen to identify Cheddar because he feared he would come back to shoot him if he knew he talked to RCMP.
During much of the trial, Schell turned to smile at family and friends who came to support him. But the stocky man with a buzz cut looked shaken after the verdict. He did not turn to face the gallery of about 10 supporters as he was led away by sheriffs.
While Dley said the dead man's statement is reliable evidence, he noted other testimony identifying Schell as Cheddar is much stronger.
Robert Lessard, who was in the apartment that night and awoke after the shooting, testified he saw Schell with a gun in his hand.
"He knew who Mr. Schell was and knew he was referred to as Cheddar. He heard Mr. Schell refer to himself by that name."
While another witness testified that Lessard didn't awaken until the next morning, Dley ruled the witness didn't adequately notice the awakened man in the aftermath and also admitted to a poor memory.
Lessard testified "Cheddar" left his telephone number on a cigarette package that was in the apartment and seized by police. Cell phone records seized by police showed the owner of that number was referred to by callers as Brando and Brandon.