Since his trial in provincial court began, 28-year-old Abdifatah Mohamed has been acting as his own lawyer, representing himself from the prisoner’s box. While his three co-accused sit near him, he stands, cross-examining witnesses on their testimony and addressing the court, often referring to the defence lawyers as his friends and sometimes using American legal terms more suitable to an episode of “Law and Order” than a Canadian courtroom.
Wednesday morning, Mohamed was all smiles, having successfully convinced the judge to drop half of the charges against him.
“I’m sorry guys, but I had to try,” Mohamed said to Mitchell Nippard, Gary Hennessey and Tyler Donahue, with whom he was charged in connection with a series of violent home invasions in which victims were said to have been tied up, assaulted, threatening with weapons and robbed of jewelry, video game consoles and lottery tickets.
“There’s a curtain in this case and no one knows what happened behind it,” Mohamed told his co-accused. “It’s like four of us are in a room and a gun goes off and someone dies. There are so many possible scenarios.”
Mohamed’s courtroom win wasn’t quite the personal coup it seemed. Although Judge Mike Madden did agree with Mohamed’s arguments for a directed verdict — an automatic not guilty verdict — in two of the four cases, Crown prosecutor Alanna Dwyer had indicated to the court last week the Crown would not pursue convictions for any of the men on those charges, due to a lack of evidence at trial.
“There is no reasonable likelihood of conviction,” she told the court in relation to home invasions on Fourth Street in Mount Pearl and Mount Royal Avenue in St. John’s in February of last year.
In the Fourth Street incident, a man alleged he was home in his basement apartment when three masked men entered, put a pillowcase over his head and a gun in his mouth, and stole the rings from his fingers, his Paystation and cash. In the second case, two dogs were shot; one of them died.
None of the victims who testified was able to identify the intruders.
Madden denied Mohamed’s application for directed verdicts for charges related to home invasions on Milton Road and Angels Road in Paradise, saying there was an “abundance” of evidence that those incidents had occurred, and Mohamed’s DNA was found on items police seized from a Mazda 3 believed to be the getaway vehicle.
His ID was also located in the car, Madden noted, and Mohamed had been arrested shortly after the Angels Road robbery, when a police dog tracked his scent from the vehicle to a wooded area nearby. He and Donahue were found sitting under trees.
In the Milton Road home invasion, a man was reportedly playing darts in a shed with his father and some friends when three masked men burst in. They ordered him to get on his knees and they beat him in the head with a gun, and used cable ties and tape to tie up the others and cover their mouths. The intruders also reportedly went into the house and tied up the man’s mother and girlfriend before stealing cash and jewelry.
On Angels Road, two masked men are said to have entered the home of a pregnant woman and robbed her of her engagement ring, Xbox and two lottery tickets as her 10-month-old daughter slept. They also took her iPhone, unknowingly calling her fiancé in the process. His friend answered and listened to what was happening before calling police.
As Mohamed and Donahue were arrested in the snow, Nippard and Hennessey were apprehended after RNC officers stopped their vehicle nearby. The body of a fifth suspect, Mohamed Salim, was located a month later behind a dump truck in a quarry off the Trans-Canada Highway. It is believed he froze to death while hiding from police the night the others were arrested.
The Crown won’t pursue a conviction for Donahue on the Milton Road robbery, also due to a lack of evidence. Hennessey and Nippard, however, remain accused with Mohamed of a slew of charges in connection with the two Paradise home invasions.
Toronto lawyer Darren Sederoff will present closing submissions to the court on Mohamed’s behalf on March 27.