Steven Neville cleared of murder, attempted murder charges
Steven Neville blew out the long breath he had been holding as he sat, for the first time since his trial began three months ago, in the prisoner's dock and not in the seat next to his lawyers and heard himself declared not guilty.
He broke into a grin, which quickly disappeared as he turned over his left shoulder to look at the loved ones of Doug Flynn and Ryan Dwyer in the gallery, sobbing for the same reason Neville was overjoyed.
After a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court trial that lasted nearly 11 weeks, and after almost nine full days of jury deliberations, Neville, 27, was acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of 19-year-old Doug Flynn and a second man, Ryan Dwyer, in 2010.
A man sitting with Flynn and Dwyer's family members got up and left the courtroom as the verdict was announced, while others consoled each other and cried into tissues.
"Why?" one woman said to herself, leaning over in her seat in tears.
Some members of Neville's family had burst into tears, too, relieved that Neville was free to leave the courthouse, cleared of the charges.
After court, Neville's lawyer, Bob Buckingham, told members of the media it was a day of relief for his client, but not a day to celebrate.
"We still have an individual in this incident that died," Buckingham said. "I know it's difficult for Mr. Flynn's family. This is an unfortunate event that happened with a bunch of young people many years ago, and Mr. Neville gets the opportunity to get on with his life, and the other individual does not. It's unfortunate. It's sad. But at the end of the day, Mr. Neville is not a criminal because of what happened here.
Buckingham and co-counsel Robert Hoskins maintained throughout the trial that Neville acted in self-defence the night Flynn was killed and Dwyer stabbed multiple times during an altercation on a street in Paradise. They said Dwyer had "gone off the deep end" over an unpaid $65 loan his brother had given Neville, and he and Flynn had mounted a "campaign of terror" against him.
In his opening and closing statements to the jury, Buckingham described incidents where Flynn and Dwyer had reportedly chased Neville in vehicles, threatened on social media to assault his mother and attempted to attack him with weapons such as brass knuckles, a baseball bat, knives and nunchucks.
On the night they were stabbed, Flynn and Dwyer had been on a "search and destroy" mission when it came to Neville, Buckingham said.
Prosecutors Jessica Gallant and Jason House presented evidence at trial they said proved Neville had planned to murder Flynn and Dwyer, including text messages he had sent to a friend on the day of the stabbing, saying he was going to stab the two men and that they were "dead, dead, dead."
"This wasn't a slam dunk, by any stretch of the imagination, given we had a jury out for nine days," Buckingham told reporters of Neville's acquittal.
Buckingham said he wasn't surprised with the not guilty verdict.
"I'm the only one in town who would probably say that, but no. My team will tell you that I was overly optimistic, pie in the sky, wasn't in touch with reality," the lawyer said. "But I was happy with the strategy we developed."
It's been a long process for families on both sides of the case. Neville was charged and originally convicted of second-degree murder by a jury in 2013, but that conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, which took issue with aspects of the original judge's instructions to the jurors — specifically, his response to a jury question.
"We realize this may be a ridiculous question, but we would like to clarify that the legal definition of ‘to kill’ is the same as ‘to murder,’ the jury asked. The country's high court ruled the judge should have answered the question instead of telling the jurors to review the information he had already provided.
A new trial was ordered and Neville was eventually released on bail, but not before spending 5 ½ years in prison. Neville was back in custody briefly this past summer, when he was charged with assaulting a woman, distributing an intimate image of her and breaching his bail conditions in October and December of 2017. Those charges are still before the court.
"There's a bunch of nonsense charges before the provincial court that under normal circumstances would not be prosecuted," Buckingham said Friday. "We'll deal with them in due course and hopefully we'll get rid of them."
While his happy family members watched off-camera, Neville stood between his lawyers and spoke to reporters before he left the courthouse. He said he has certification in heavy equipment operation and was looking forward to getting to work, spending Christmas with his family and friends, and having "a great future."
"I went through a lot of stress with family members," Neville said. "I just want to say that I'm relieved that it's over and I'm extremely happy with the verdict today and I'm glad that my innocence has been proven."