Which the jury in William Sandeson’s second murder trial never heard

This still from surveillance video shows William Sandeson in the hallway outside his apartment.  (Nova Scotia Supreme Court – photo credit)

This still from surveillance video shows William Sandeson in the hallway outside his apartment. (Nova Scotia Supreme Court – photo credit)

WARNING: This story contains graphic details.

It’s a cramped little space. The walls are lined with white acoustic tiles and the floor is an intense green. Two chairs face each other, so close together that someone sitting on them would almost touch their knees.

William Sandeson spent almost 24 hours in this room at Police Headquarters as of August 18, 2015.

Investigators showered him with questions about what happened at his home three nights earlier when Taylor Samson, a 22-year-old physics student at Dalhousie University, was shot and killed.

During police interrogation, they reminded the then 23-year-old Sandeson of part of the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” Doctors take that oath, and Sandeson was days away from starting medical school when he was arrested.

The jury in his first murder trial in 2017 listened to most of that interrogation as the video played in court. But it’s one of the pieces of evidence that the jury has largely failed to see in his current murder trial.

Lawyers from both sides held their closing arguments on Wednesday. Sandeson’s lawyer argued he killed Samson in self-defense over a drug deal gone awry. The Crown claimed Sandeson was heavily in debt and wanted to avoid paying for the nine kilograms of marijuana that Samson brought into the home.

With the jury now cut off from the outside world as they deliberate on whether Sandeson is guilty of first-degree murder, what they didn’t hear can now be reported.

6 different stories

In the police interrogation video, Sandeson tells six different stories about what happened at his home on the night of Saturday, August 15, 2015. In none of these stories did Sandeson pull the trigger. Instead, he talked about gang members climbing through his apartment window to kill Samson and magic his body away.

When Sandeson was arrested, police suspected him of kidnapping Samson and warned him of his rights in relation to those charges. But as the interrogation continued and investigators extracted more evidence from his phone and apartment, they shifted their focus and it became a murder investigation.

Halifax Regional Police

Halifax Regional Police

In the seven years since he was arrested and questioned, Sandeson’s lawyers have argued that he should have received a second police warning to reflect the murder charge. It wasn’t him.

In pre-trial filings leading up to the current trial, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice James Chipman agreed that Sandeson’s rights had been violated. Chipman ruled that the current jury would not see any of the later police interrogations, only the first, in which Sandeson was questioned as a witness rather than a suspect.

This left Sandeson free to present the current jury with a seventh version of events, in which he admitted to the shooting but claimed he acted in self-defense.

Very different attempts

The judge and attorneys in the current trial have gone to great lengths to protect the jury from information about the 2017 trial. However, as many of the same witnesses were called to testify, it became necessary to refer to transcripts of their testimony at the 2017 trial to refresh their memories of what they saw in August 2015.

The judge eventually issued a statement during the trial, acknowledging the 2017 trial but admonishing the jury not to think about it.

This current trial has gone smoother than 2017, which saw many interruptions with the jury being sent out of the courtroom while the attorneys argued. One of these disputes concerned whether a mistrial should be declared because a private investigator hired by the defense had leaked information to the police.

The original judge denied the mistrial motion. But it became the basis for a successful appeal that led to the current trial.

Sandeson’s attorney has made another bid for a trial in the months leading up to the current trial and has once again focused on the private investigator’s actions. But Chipman dismissed that argument.

Dramatic testimony

The information the private investigator passed relates to the most dramatic moments in both murder trials: the statements of Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe. The two men said that shortly after hearing a gunshot, they saw a large man slumped in Sandeson’s apartment and bleeding to death.

There are other things that none of the jurors saw, including a text message said to have been sent by Sandeson four or five weeks before Samson’s death. In the text, Sandeson threatened to dismember his girlfriend if he found out she had been unfaithful to him.

The texting led to speculation that Sandeson had dismembered Samson’s body and possibly dissolved it with chemicals, as he had threatened his girlfriend to do. But during the current trial, Sandeson claimed he put Samson’s body in a duffel bag, drove it from Halifax to Truro, NS, and dumped it in a creek that led to the Bay of Fundy.

While the jury at the 2017 trial saw most of the police interrogation video, they didn’t see a segment in which an officer called Sandeson a “piece of shit” while trying to elicit an answer from him. The judge at the 2017 trial accepted that the exchange was very prejudicial to Sandeson, so it was excised from the version shown to this jury.

It remains to be seen whether withholding all of this information will sway the current jury in their deliberations.



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