A former medical student who claims he fatally shot a fellow student in self-defence during a drug deal in Halifax denied Tuesday he planned to kill the man and steal the nine kilograms of marijuana he was carrying.
William Sandeson, who was also a small-time drug dealer, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the Aug. 15, 2015, death of 22-year-old Dalhousie University physics student Taylor Samson, whose body has yet to be found.
Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Carla Ball, Sandeson told the Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury he brought a handgun to the drug deal only to intimidate Samson, not to kill him.
“You planned to use that gun that night to kill,” Ball told him. The 30-year-old accused said that wasn’t true. “No. I planned to use that gun to intimidate.”
On Monday, Sandeson testified that soon after he showed Samson the gun, the victim lunged at him and the resulting struggle ended when Sandeson shot him, saying he was certain Samson — a much larger man — would have killed him otherwise. As well, Sandeson admitted that he disposed of the victim's body the next day by dumping it into a tidal river that feeds the Bay of Fundy, near Truro, N.S.
On Tuesday, Ball suggested Sandeson was motivated to kill because he was mired in debt and was about to spend a small fortune on tuition and books as he was days away from beginning medical school at Dalhousie. She said the cost of Sandeson’s medical degree over four years was estimated at $112,000. And she reminded the jury that the accused had $78,000 outstanding on a line of credit.
“You were in debt, big time,” she told Sandeson.
Sandeson repeatedly denied the allegation, saying he was in good financial shape because of drug debts he was owed, a student grant and the possibility that the cost of his education would be covered by the provincial government if he chose to practise in a rural community.
“I was under next to no financial pressure,” he said. “I had a large balance owing on the line of credit, but I had assets that more than balanced the line of credit.”
The accused said that aside from his drug dealing, which earned him about $8,000 a month by the summer of 2015, he also held three jobs, including part-time positions at two hospitals and at a home for the intellectually disabled.
But Ball argued that the drug trade had become increasingly important and more lucrative for Sandeson.
“You were entrenched in the drug trade,” Ball said, adding that Sandeson had already told the court he was selling drugs to a network of people, most of them Dalhousie athletes. Sandeson was also a varsity track athlete at the university.
Again, Sandeson disagreed, saying he was dealing in small amounts of drugs, including marijuana, magic mushrooms and MDMA, which is also known as ecstasy.
Citing texts between Sandeson and Samson on the day before they met on Aug. 15, 2015, Ball suggested that the accused kept delaying their meeting at Sandeson's apartment on Henry Street.
"You planned to get him alone in your apartment as late as you could," Ball said.
Sandeson challenged that assertion, saying he needed more time to think about how he was going to confront Samson about his role in an recent home invasion and robbery involving a drug dealer who owed Sandeson money.
"I was buying more time for myself to decide whether I would meet with him," he told the court.
Sandeson has told the court that on the night of the drug deal, Samson arrived with nine kilograms of marijuana and was expecting to be paid $40,000 for 20 bags weighing one pound each. Instead, Sandeson took only 15 bags and gave Samson $10,000 — shortchanging him by $20,000 to cover the loss associated with the earlier robbery.
When Sandeson flashed his gun and ordered Samson to leave, Samson lunged at him, and the ensuing struggle led to his death, Sandeson testified. He said he was sure he would be killed if he didn't defend himself by firing a fatal shot.
At the time, Sandeson stood five feet nine inches tall and weighed 150 pounds, while Samson was six feet two inches tall and weighed 220 pounds, the court heard.
The case marks the second time Sandeson has been put on trial for killing Samson. A verdict from a trial in 2017 was overturned on appeal and a second trial was ordered in 2020.
The trial was scheduled to resume Wednesday.