The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the Crown’s application for leave to appeal a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision that overturned a former Dalhousie University medical student’s murder conviction.
A Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury found William Michael Sandeson guilty in June 2017 of first-degree murder in the August disappearance of Dal physics student Taylor Samson. Sandeson was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
But the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal quashed the conviction in June 2020 and ordered a new trial. The Appeal Court said a mistrial ought to have been declared after it was revealed at trial that a private investigator hired by the defence had tipped off police about evidence.
In November, the Crown applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the Appeal Court decision and have the conviction restored.
Because the decision to overturn the conviction was unanimous, the Crown did not have an automatic right to appeal it to the top court and had to convince it why the case should be heard.
In their brief to the Supreme Court of Canada, prosecutors said the Appeal Court misapplied binding precedent from the top court.
“The impact on this case and the state of the law going forward is significant,” the Crown wrote.
“No deference was paid to the trial judge’s factual findings or his decision as to the appropriate remedies for late disclosure at trial. The high standard for a mistrial was upended. Leave to appeal is necessary to prevent other courts from being misled by the NSCA’s faulty analysis, which takes the law in the wrong direction on these multiple fronts.”
The top court dismissed the application Thursday without giving reasons.
Melissa Foshay, spokeswoman for the provincial Public Prosecution Service, said that although the Supreme Court of Canada only agrees to hear a small percentage of leave applications, Thursday’s decision “is still disappointing.”
Now that the leave to appeal is off the table, Sandeson is expected to appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in the near future to set dates for his retrial.
Sandeson, 28, joins a lonq queue of defendants waiting for jury trials in the Halifax region. There have been no jury trials in metro since last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Halifax Law Courts building is too cramped to safely accommodate jury trials during the pandemic. Trials are scheduled to resume next month in two new courtrooms being built in Dartmouth’s Burnside Park.
Sandeson’s next appearance in Supreme Court is currently set for April 30.
Sandeson has been in custody since August 2015 and will remain behind bars until his trial, whenever that is. A Supreme Court judge denied him bail last month.
The reasons for Justice James Chipman’s Jan. 22 bail decision cannot be reported because of a publication ban on details of the bail hearing to protect Sandeson’s right to a fair jury trial.
Sandeson was denied bail by a different Supreme Court judge in October 2015.
Samson, 22, was reported missing after allegedly going to Sandeson’s apartment on Henry Street in Halifax on the night of Aug. 15, 2015, to sell him nine kilograms of marijuana for $40,000.
Samson’s body has not been located, but police allegedly found his DNA on a 9mm handgun, a duffel bag and other items seized from the apartment or from the Sandeson family’s farm in Lower Truro.
Two of Sandeson’s neighbours told police they hadn’t seen or heard anything on the night of the alleged murder. But they later told private investigator Bruce Webb that they looked into the apartment after hearing a single gunshot and saw a man slumped over the kitchen table, with blood coming from his head.
Webb, a former Mountie, put police in contact with the two young men, who had moved to Ontario.
Sandeson has filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court against Webb, his former employer, Martin & Associates Investigations Inc. of Dutch Settlement, and company owner Tom Martin.
The suit alleges the defendants breached their fiduciary duty to Sandeson and failed to perform their services in a diligent and competent manner. He is seeking unspecified general and special damages.
In 2018, Sandeson successfully sued his former roommate in small claims court for taking part of his sneaker collection and some homemade wine. The adjudicator awarded Sandeson $500 in damages plus $199.45 for costs and process serving.
And last November, Sandeson launched a legal action against the provincial justice minister and the superintendent of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth, claiming they denied him the right to vote in the municipal elections the previous month.