The fate of an Edmonton man accused of murdering a garbage truck driver will hinge in part on how a judge decides to treat a photo lineup given to the deceased’s partner.
Dagmawi Abebe Admasu is entering the final stages of a first-degree murder trial which began in Edmonton last month. A major issue in the trial has been whether the Crown has convincingly proven that Admasu was one of the shooters.
Admasu, 32, is alleged to have been one of two gunmen who shot Daniel Holly in the parking lot outside Holly’s apartment building — 432 Brintnell Boulevard — around 9 p.m. on July 23, 2016. Holly’s common-law wife — who testified at trial and whose name is protected by a publication ban — was shot in the hand during the chaos.
The two assailants then climbed into a gold-coloured minivan and sped off. Police eventually spotted the vehicle around 66 Street and were led on a high-speed chase, during which shots were fired from the van at police vehicles.
The van — which was not registered to any of the three men believed to have been inside — was then abandoned in an alleyway. Police arrested Admasu in a field near St. Matthew Elementary School in Edmonton’s Killarney neighbourhood with the help of a K9 team.
Neither Crown nor defence offered a motive for Holly’s killing during their closing arguments Friday. The defence called no evidence.
Crown prosecutor Anders Quist acknowledged that with the exception of a photo lineup completed by Holly’s wife from her hospital bed, the Crown’s case is built on circumstantial evidence.
However, that circumstantial evidence is convincing, he argued, including Admasu’s DNA on both firearms and gunshot residue on the backs of both of his hands. At the time of his arrest, Admasu was carrying a backpack that included what Quist called a “violent crime kit” including gloves, masks, duct tape and two pistols — a .45-calibre and a .40-calibre, both empty.
“A large number of probablies can add up to proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he argued.
One looming issue is whether a photo lineup of suspects Holly’s partner viewed in hospital 16 hours after the shooting is deemed admissible by Justice John Henderson, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Two police officers administered the test before the woman was taken into surgery. Henderson granted a publication ban on her name and the names of six other witnesses who said they feared for their safety if they testified.
Police video recorded her as she completed the process, tentatively identifying Admasu from a selection of mugshots.
But when she took the stand on the second day of trial, she testified she barely remembered the process and declined to indicate whether anyone in the courtroom was the man she identified.
“I don’t remember, I was so drugged up on medication that I don’t recall this even happening,” she told Crown prosecutor Meghan Rohatyn. She also said she believed she had to pick one of the photos, and that police seemed pleased when she made her selection.
Quist argued Henderson should consider the woman’s in-court evidence unreliable, saying the judge should prefer her recollection as it was just hours after the shooting.
He said based on the video of the interaction, she was alert and understood the officers’ instructions, including that it was “just as important to excuse the innocent” as identify a suspect.
Quist said it was possible the woman’s about-face on her evidence could stem from “fearfulness of reprisal.”
Defence lawyer Clayton Rice argued the Crown had not proven Admasu was one of the shooters. He said the photo lineup evidence should not be admissible.
He said the gunshot residue evidence was a “minuscule” three particles and that, had Admasu been the shooter, he would have had residue on his face and clothing.
None of Admasu’s DNA was found on the abandoned clothing recovered by investigators, he said, adding that the DNA evidence on the guns was also unconvincing.
Rice concluded saying this is the type of case that is taught in law schools to show “the frailties of eyewitness identification.”
Charges against Admasu’s former co-accused, Tysean Wawryk, were stayed by the Crown last year.
Henderson is scheduled to give his decision May 19.