Former Vernon man's retrial denied, murder conviction restored by Supreme Court of Canada

Murder retrial denied

Canada's highest court has denied a former Vernon man a retrial and restored his murder conviction in the death of a Japanese exchange student.

In a 7-2 decision, a Supreme Court of Canada panel confirmed the admissibility of an overheard conversation as evidence in the trial of William (Willy) Schneider.

During a phone conversation in Vernon's Polson Park after the murder of Natsumi Kogawa in 2016, Schneider was overheard by his brother to have said "I did it."

Kogawa's body was found in a suitcase on the grounds of a vacant mansion in Vancouver’s West End in September of that year.

Schneider was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018, but won an appeal last year, granting him a retrial, which the Crown challenged to the high court.

Schneider's lawyers argued the trial judge made a mistake by admitting his brother’s testimony about the overheard conversation.

The Supreme Court panel did not agree, however.

In releasing their decision Friday, the panel said the trial judge did not make an error in deciding to admit the brother’s testimony.

Justice Rowe allowed the Crown's appeal, with Chief Justice Wagner and Justices Moldaver, Côté, Martin, Kasirer and Jamal in agreement.

Justices Karakatsanis and Brown dissented and would have dismissed the appeal, finding the testimony of the overheard conversation inadmissible, the court wrote.

Writing for a majority of the judges, Justice Malcolm Rowe said: "The trial judge did not err in admitting the brother's testimony as to what he overheard the accused say."

Three questions needed to be answered to come to this conclusion: "Was what the brother overheard relevant? Was an exception to the hearsay rule applicable? Did the trial judge exercise her discretion correctly in deciding that the probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect?"

The majority said the answer to all three questions is 'yes'.

"What the brother overheard was indeed relevant. Also, the 'party admission' exception is applicable in this case because it allows witness testimony about a confession even if the witness was not a party to that conversation. Finally, the trial judge used her discretion correctly and further minimized the potential harmful effects of the evidence with a strong caution to the jury about what they could make of it," the court ruled.

Schneider's brother confronted him after seeing a photo of him with Kogawa, who was missing at the time, in a news release.

The next day, Schneider attempted suicide in his brother's presence and told him where to find the Kogawa's body. He then overheard Schneider call his estranged wife on the phone and ask if she had heard about the missing woman.

That was when the "I did it" or "I killed her" admission was overheard. The brother said he did not remember "word-for-word" what Willy said, but that he was taking responsibility for the woman's death.

Witness testimony about a conversation they were not part of, or hearsay evidence, is typically not admissible as evidence.

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