A Victoria man who murdered a mentally ill, unarmed man in 2010 will stay in custody after a judge dismissed his appeal of his second trial this week.
Andrew Jonathon Belcourt was convicted of murdering Leslie Hankel in 2012 after a jury found him guilty of breaking into Hankel’s home and shooting him on March 3, 2010. In 2015 Belcourt appealed the decision on the basis of errors in the jury instructions. That appeal was granted and a new trial was ordered. It was his second trial.
Belcourt admitted that he killed Hankel during the botched robbery, but the central issue was whether he intended to murder Hankel when a shotgun he was holding discharged into the other man’s head. Belcourt gave statements to the police shortly after he was arrested, along with testifying at the first trial and says the Crown used those transcripts improperly and prejudicially when he was cross-examined. Justice David Harris dismissed the appeal on Dec. 4 in a Vancouver courtroom.
Michael Rennie, Belcourt’s stepfather provided the shotgun that killed Hankel. He testified during the first trial that Belcourt had used the gun in target practice just days before the murder took place, but was not called to testify during the second trial. Belcourt denies the target practice ever having taken place and argues Rennie is an unreliable witness.
Belcourt and his accomplice, Sam McGrath, planned the robbery after being tipped off by Rennie that there was marijuana inside the apartment where Hankel lived alone. Hankel was sleeping when two men with shirts tied over their heads burst into his apartment. McGrath searched the apartment while Belcourt guarded Hankel, who had curled up in the corner. The shotgun went off unexpectedly and fired into the ceiling. Belcourt testified the second shot that went off was an accident. The men “freaked out” and fled the scene.
“The issue whether Mr. Belcourt had any experience using a shotgun before the death of Mr. Hankel was obviously important to Mr. Belcourt’s defence of accident and his credibility generally,” wrote Justice Harris in his reasons for judgment.
During the alleged improper questioning Crown counsel never specifically suggests Belcourt shot the same gun, only that he had shot a gun, which Justice Harris found to be in good-faith thus allowing the line of cross-examination.
“The cross‑examination was relatively lengthy, taking place over most of two days. It was persistent and at times arguably aggressive, but was not, in my view, personally abusive. It did not include the use of sarcastic tone, problematic requests to comment on the veracity of witnesses, editorialized comments, expressions of personal opinion, or any of the other defects that have led courts to order new trials in the past,” wrote Justice Harris.