An Ottawa crack dealer who gunned down a rival outside a home in Blackburn Hamlet has lost an appeal of his first-degree murder conviction.
In June 2017, Michael Belleus was found guilty of the planned, deliberate murder of Levy Kasende, 22, and was automatically sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
During the six-week trial, court heard that Belleus and Kasende had a years-long feud over drug territory. They once had a confrontation outside a Mac’s Milk convenience store during which Kasende pulled a gun; the two men struggled for control of it, and Belleus was shot in the arm.
Belleus refused to give a statement to the police about the incident, saying he would deal with it himself.
Two years later, on the night of Aug. 25, 2012, a van pulled up outside a townhouse in Blackburn Hamlet. Kasende was out front with two friends. They saw a gun muzzle flash several times from the van’s window.
The vehicle sped off as Kasende died from a bullet that had pierced his heart.
About 45 minutes after the shooting, a van was found burning in a field near Rockdale Road. The owner of the van was identified as Roch Leduc, a crack cocaine user who bought drugs from Belleus, a man he knew as “Tyson.”
In the first of two videotaped interviews, Leduc told police his van was stolen off the street. But in the second — after being warned he could face legal trouble in connection with the Kasende murder — Leduc told police he had lent the vehicle to a drug dealer named Tyson.
Leduc died from cancer before he could testify at Belleus’ trial, but the trial judge admitted both statements into evidence, the second for the truth of its contents.
Belleus maintained his innocence at trial and appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
The central issue in Belleus’ appeal was the trial judge’s decision to allow Leduc’s statements into evidence.
Hearsay evidence — any statement made outside a courtroom but tendered for its truth — is considered presumptively inadmissible since it cannot be tested through cross-examination. It will only be admitted in specific circumstances.
In the Belleus case, the Crown had to satisfy Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips that Leduc’s hearsay evidence met tests for both necessity and reliability.
Phillips ruled Leduc’s death made his evidence necessary, while the videotape recordings allowed jurors to assess Leduc’s demeanour as a witness. Other evidence, he noted, corroborated what Leduc said in his statement.
During the appeal case, Belleus’ lawyers argued that Leduc could have lied in his statement to deflect police attention from himself. Such a possibility, they argued, should have made the statement inadmissible due to its unreliability.
The appeal court, however, endorsed Phillips’ finding that there was enough strong collaborative evidence in the case to support the truth of Leduc’s statement. The appeal panel also dismissed as implausible the suggestion that Leduc was lying.
Concluded Justice Kathryn Feldman, writing for the panel: “While it is possible that Mr. Leduc could have had a motive to lie, given that the police did put pressure on him, a known drug addict, and he did lie at one point, in my view, it is not a plausible explanation.”
Belleus, now 34, will not be able to apply for parole until 2042.
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