Former Toronto gang leader Jermaine Dunkley was acquitted on a Hamilton murder charge Thursday after a judge found "significant problems" with the evidence of the Crown's key witness, whom he suggested had been improperly coached by investigators.
Dunkley, however, isn't leaving custody as he is already serving a life sentence for ordering a revenge hit outside a Rexdale community centre in 2013.
Justice Joseph Henderson said there were far too many "unexplained, illogical, inconsistencies" in the main witness's testimony to convict the 36-year-old Dunkley of the first-degree murder of Michael Parmer, 22, outside a Hamilton bar in 2005.
"Moreover, even if there were no inconsistencies," the judge said he would have to treat her evidence with caution "because of her criminal lifestyle, her dishonest character, her possible motive to lie, her demeanour, and the way in which her important evidence evolved through coaching by police officers."
The witness cannot be identified because she was once a confidential informant for the Hamilton Police Service.
Henderson said one of the most glaring inconsistencies in her evidence came as the result of "coaxing" by Hamilton police officers. The witness initially told police the shooting happened on a sidewalk outside the club but changed it to a plaza parking lot at the behest of officers, he said reading his reasons during a zoom hearing.
"I find that the manner in which this evidence was elicited by police officers severely undermines the reliability of ... (the witness's) testimony about the location of the shooting."
Parmer was shot in the eye early Sept. 9, 2005, while standing in the centre of the parking lot. He and four friends were from Niagara Falls, N.Y., and had driven to Hamilton to check out a bar hosting a reggae and hip hop night.
Henderson made no finding whether corrupt Hamilton cop Craig Ruthowsky told the witness not to co-operate more than a decade ago. But he concluded she was involved in a "corrupt illegal scheme that was being run by her handler, officer Ruthowsky," who was convicted in 2018 on bribery and other charges in Toronto, Henderson said.
Watching the proceeding from a video room at the Hamilton jail and wearing an orange jumpsuit, mask hanging below his chin, Dunkley broke into a wide smile and laughed after the judge reached his conclusion.