A former medical student accused of fatally shooting another student during a drug deal says he fired his gun in self-defence after a struggle in his Halifax apartment, saying he didn't call police because he was terrified he would face charges.
"I knew there was nothing I could do for him," William Sandeson, a former track athlete at Dalhousie University, told his jury trial Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. "There was bloody money and drugs everywhere .... I was definitely going to jail for something."
Sandeson, 30, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the Aug. 15, 2015, death of Taylor Samson, a Halifax drug dealer and Dalhousie physics student who was 22 years old when he was killed.
Testifying in his own defence, Sandeson said he was a small-time drug dealer who wanted to buy nine kilograms of marijuana, which he planned to sell at a profit, mostly to other university students and fellow track athletes at Dalhousie.
The Crown alleges Sandeson fatally shot Samson shortly after he arrived at Sandeson's apartment on Henry Street around 10:30 p.m. The motive, according to the Crown, was financial gain as the accused had a large line of credit to pay off after attending medical school in the Caribbean.
Sandeson testified that prior to the drug deal, he was told Samson had taken part in a home invasion and robbery involving another drug dealer, who at the time owed Sandeson about $13,000 for an outstanding loan. The accused said he planned to confront Samson about the robbery during the drug deal.
The court heard that Samson arrived at the apartment carrying a large duffel bag filled with nine kilograms of marijuana, which he planned to sell to Sandeson for $40,000.
Sandeson said he emptied the bag to inspect the contents, then he placed two kilograms back in the bag and handed the victim $10,000 in $20 bills. When Samson asked for the rest of what he was owed, Sandeson said he told him about the home invasion and said, "You're lucky you're getting away with anything at all."
At that point, Sandeson said he lifted up his sweater to reveal a handgun in his pocket and ordered Samson to leave.
But instead, Samson appeared to immediately calm down. Sandeson said Samson then made a threatening remark and lunged at him, trying to wrestle the gun from his pocket.
"We both had our hands on the gun at various points and eventually it was pulled out," Sandeson said in a quiet monotone. "I was twisting away from him trying to keep my body between him and the gun and he ended up with both arms around me and we jostled for control."
Sandeson said he managed to break free with the weapon.
"I pointed at him with both hands and I screamed at him to get the f**k out of my apartment," Sandeson said, his tone unchanged. "He kind of sneered … and said, 'You're done.' And he lunged out of the chair toward the gun. And I pulled the trigger."
Sandeson, his voice cracking slightly, said he couldn't hear anything after the gun went off. He said he noticed that Samson had slumped into a kitchen chair and was bleeding profusely from either his head or neck — and he wasn't moving.
"I heard this breath that didn't sound natural," he told the court. "I went to check him for a pulse … and I noticed there was blood everywhere on his head and neck. I ran to my neighbour's apartment to tell them they had to get out of there."
Responding to questions from defence lawyer Alison Craig, Sandeson said he pulled the trigger "to keep him from killing me."
The court has heard that two of Sandeson's teammates on the track team, Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe, were in the apartment across the hall. Both men testified that they ran to Sandeson's apartment, where they saw a large man slumped forward in a kitchen chair and bleeding, his head almost between his knees.
Blades testified he heard a distraught Sandeson say that he needed to clean up. But on Monday, Sandeson said it was Blades who repeatedly suggested that the apartment had to be cleaned and that the accused denied earlier testimony indicating that he had asked Blades to get a car.
Sandeson went on to describe how he placed Samson's body in the duffel bag and carried it to the trunk of his car. The accused also confirmed he used bleach to clean his apartment and that he disposed of blood-spattered items, including some money, by placing it in a recycling bin.
Early the next day, Aug. 16, 2015, Sandeson said he decided to dispose of the body by dumping it in a tidal river that feeds to the Bay of Fundy. He said he concealed the body under garbage bags, knowing that the bay's powerful tides would soon take it away.
Sandeson was arrested two days later.
"I was terrified, in total shock," Sandeson said. "I didn't know what to do .... It didn't seem real."
He confirmed that after the shooting, he sent out purposely misleading texts suggesting to others that Samson had failed to show up for the drug deal.
The court proceeding, now in its fifth week, 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.
On Monday, Crown prosecutor Carla Ball was cross-examining Sandeson when she suggested that among the skills he picked up while attending the Saba School of Medicine in the Caribbean was the dissection of human bodies.
"You knew exactly how to dissect a body," Ball said, adding that among Sandeson's courses was an anatomy class that included the dissection of cadavers.
Sandeson replied: "Dissecting is the opening of a body to look inside."