© — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Steven Michael Neville took one last look at his parents before being led out of the courtroom, not knowing how long he’ll have to spend in jail.
Minutes before, the 22-year-old was found guilty of second-degree murder and attempted murder.
When the verdict was read aloud by the forewoman of the jury, it spurred an emotional reaction from the families.
On one side of the courtroom, Neville’s mother broke into tears after her son’s conviction, while on the other side of the room, the mothers of stabbing victims Doug Flynn and Ryan Dwyer cried tears of relief.
Rosellen Sullivan, who was co-counsel for Neville, also sobbed, clearly disappointed by the outcome following the seven-week trial that began October 2012 at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s.
A female juror was also seen tearing up following the verdict.
Neville, who sat in the prisoner’s dock, remained calm and had a look of regret on his face as he glanced back at his parents, who were sat behind him in the crowded courtroom.
It took the jury less than two days to reach a decision. They began deliberations at around 5 p.m. Wednesday following the lawyers’ final arguments.
Jurors returned three times Thursday to seek further explanation from the judge about the law regarding the charge of first-degree murder.
In the end, the seven women and four men — the jury was reduced to 11 after one man backed out last week due to personal reasons — found there was insufficient evidence to convict Neville of first-degree murder, which requires an element of planning.
Neville stabbed Flynn and Dwyer on Carlisle Drive in Paradise in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2010. Dwyer suffered knife wounds to his sides, arms and back, but recovered. Flynn was killed, having been knifed in the temple and chest.
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 10 years served before parole eligibility. However, the jury can recommend the number of years before parole eligibility be increased.
After the verdict was read, Justice Carl Thompson allowed jurors a break to discuss whether or not they wanted to make a recommendation about parole. About 15 minutes later when they returned to the courtroom, the forewoman indicated to the judge that the group had chosen not to make one.
Thompson thanked them for their time, saying they did the community a service.
“There’s nothing more difficult than to sit in judgment (of someone),” he told them.
The judge also thanked Sullivan and defence co-counsel Peter Ralph, as well as Crown prosecutors Robin Fowler and Jason House for their professionalism.
At the end of proceedings, family members on both sides declined reporters’ requests for an interview.
However, lawyers on both sides agreed to talk.
“The Crown takes no joy or pleasure in this type of verdict,” Fowler said. “In these types of cases, our job is to make sure all the evidence is put to the jury so they can make a decision based on relevant information and we’re satisfied that’s what we did in this case.”
Fowler believed the key piece of evidence was the fact that on the night of the stabbings, Neville jumped out of a moving car to confront Flynn and Dwyer.
However, outside court, Ralph, who was cleary shaken, said the verdict was devastating.
“Rosellen and I put our whole heart and soul into this,” he said. “We believe he should’ve been acquitted.”
Ralph said Neville’s family is also crushed.
He said he will be recommending to Neville that they appeal the verdict.
“We think there were some difficulties in the trial, which may have affected the fairness of the trial,” Ralph said.
The difficulties, he said, was the late evidence on the case provided by police two weeks into the trial.
It was regarding a telephone conversation Neville had with friend Martha Bennett the night of the stabbings. The conversation was thought to have not existed, since there was no record of it. That is, until police came forward with it. However, the defence had already cross-examined Bennett on the basis that conversation didn’t happen.
“Our strategy for attacking her credibility, the legs were cut out from under it, because of this late disclosure,” Ralph said. “As a result, the fairness of the trial is certainly a question.”
The case will be called again in court Feb. 11 to set a date for a sentencing hearing.