A former medical student convicted of first-degree murder in the August 2015 slaying of a fellow Dalhousie University student is suing a private investigator who was hired by the defence but pointed police to a pair of key witnesses.
William Michael Sandeson, 26, was found guilty by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury in June 2017 of killing Taylor Samson, 22. Sandeson is serving a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
Sandeson filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court in Truro in August against private investigator Bruce Webb, as well as his former employer, Martin & Associates Investigations Inc. of Dutch Settlement, and company owner Tom Martin.
In the civil suit, Sandeson alleges the defendants breached their fiduciary duty to him and failed to perform their services in a diligent and competent manner.
At trial, the court heard that Samson went to Sandeson’s apartment on Henry Street in Halifax on Aug. 15, 2015, to sell him nine kilograms of marijuana for $40,000.
Samson was last seen alive on a video recording captured by Sandeson's surveillance system that night. There were no images of Samson walking out when police reviewed the recordings, court heard.
At sentencing in July 2017, Justice Josh Arnold said Sandeson shot Samson while he was sitting at a kitchen table.
A pair of Sandeson’s track teammates who also lived in the building looked inside his apartment after hearing what sounded like a single gunshot
“Mr. Samson was slumped over in a chair, dead, with blood running out of his head,” Arnold said. “Money and drugs were on and around the kitchen table covered in Mr. Samson’s blood.
“Mr. Sandeson was running around his apartment, not seeking to help Mr. Samson, but instead telling (his friends) that he had to clean up. He was picking up bloody money.”
Samson’s body has not been found. DNA matching his genetic profile was recovered from a handgun, black duffel bag and other items seized from Sandeson’s apartment and his family’s farm in Lower Truro.
The judge said Sandeson had a $200,000 line of credit that was co-signed by his mother to pay for medical school, but in August 2015 - before he even started classes at medical school - more than $70,000 of that money had been spent.
Crown lawyers had argued Sandeson, motivated by greed, devised a scheme to kill Samson and steal the marijuana to pay off his debts. Arnold said there was no evidence Sandeson had $40,000 cash to pay for the drugs.
In his closing arguments, defence lawyer Eugene Tan conceded there was a “violent incident” at the apartment that night, but he said his client had always maintained there was someone else in the apartment.
Sandeson’s neighbours initially told police they hadn’t seen or heard anything that night.
Sandeson, through his defence lawyer, retained Martin & Associates in the fall of 2015 to interview witnesses in preparation for criminal proceedings.
The two neighbours revealed what they had actually observed when they were interviewed by Webb, a retired RCMP officer who worked for Martin, a former homicide investigator with Halifax Regional Police.
Webb then shared those discussions with police and urged them to re-interview the witnesses. He also helped police find the men and take new statements.
The defence team did not learn what Webb had done until May 2017, midway through the jury trial.
The judge denied a defence application for a mistrial, ruling that Webb’s actions did not breach solicitor-client privilege and caused “insignificant” damage to Sandeson’s right to a fair trial.
But Sandeson’s lawsuit says police had no independent plans to re-interview the witnesses.
“The additional information and witness testimony obtained by police following Webb’s assistance was evidence at trial and significantly altered the outcome of the trial, leading to a guilty verdict by the jury,” the statement of claim says.
“The plaintiff states that he would have had a reasonable prospect of success at trial of being acquitted had Webb not conducted himself in the manner described herein.”
Sandeson says Webb’s actions prevented him from making a “complete and full defence” in the criminal proceedings.
The lawsuit, filed on Sandeson’s behalf by Truro lawyer Stacey England, seeks unspecified general and special damages.
The allegations in the filing have not been tested in court.
Sandeson, who is incarcerated at a federal penitentiary in Donnacona, Que., is appealing his conviction. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has yet to schedule a date for the appeal to be heard.
Earlier this year, 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.
With files from the Canadian Press