WARNING: This story contains details that some may find disturbing.
HALIFAX — The grisly aftermath of an alleged fatal shooting was described Monday during the murder trial of a former Dalhousie University medical student accused of killing a fellow student in Halifax seven years ago.
William Sandeson, who at the time was 23 years old and a track athlete at the university, has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Taylor Samson, a student in the physics department.
The Crown alleges Samson, 22, had gone to Sandeson's apartment to sell him nine kilograms of marijuana when the accused shot him on the night of Aug. 15, 2015. Samson's body has yet to be found. The Crown believes his remains were carried away in the huge bag that contained the drugs.
Key witness Justin Blades — another former Dalhousie student and track athlete who knew Sandeson — testified Monday that he was visiting a neighbouring apartment rented by his best friend, Pookiel McCabe, when both men heard a loud bang.
Within seconds, Sandeson knocked at their door and was allowed in, and the three men headed for Sandeson’s apartment across the hall to see what was going on, Blades told the jury.
He said that from the doorway of the apartment, he saw a tall man slumped forward in a kitchen chair, his head almost between his knees — and there was blood pouring from wounds he could not see.
“It was a slow stream of blood,” the 31-year-old witness said in a shaky voice. “He was bleeding out.”
Blades said the man was not moving, and he saw a growing pool of blood on the floor, as well as money on a kitchen table and the floor.
“We were just looking at each other and (I thought), ‘What the f**k do we do?’” Blades said, referring to McCabe, another member of the Dalhousie track and field team who also knew Sandeson.
“There was enough blood on the floor to fill the floor. If there wasn’t a stop at the door, it would have been in the hallway.”
As for Sandeson, Blades said he was pacing the floor, picking up money and uttering gibberish.
“I just remember him saying, ‘I’ve got to clean up,’” said Blades, a lanky man dressed in black jeans, a green coat and tan hoodie. “He seemed distraught.”
At that point, Blades said both he and McCabe went back to McCabe’s apartment, where they decided to leave for a party. On their way out, Blades opened Sandeson’s door to let him know they were going out.
Blades said he recalled rejecting a request from Sandeson to bring a car to the building on Henry Street.
“I said, ‘You have to do something about this. You have to call the police.’” Blades told the court, adding that he felt sick and panic-stricken.
He also recalled that upon opening Sandeson's door as they were leaving, the man in the chair was no longer there. Blades said he then spotted “streaks down the hallway” leading to the washroom in Sandeson’s apartment.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I was freaking the hell out .... I was just scared, with a million things going through my head.”
When Crown prosecutor Kimberley McOnie asked why he didn’t call police, Blades said he was worried about Sandeson’s connections with the illicit drug trade and the Hells Angels in Quebec -- though the court later heard the accused had no dealings with the notorious biker gang.
When he returned to the apartment building the next morning, Blades said Sandeson’s place was spotless and smelled like some kind of cleaner. “My nose was burning,” he said.
During his testimony, Blades’s voice quavered and he wiped his eyes several times and gently sobbed. He confirmed he told police very little when he was asked for a statement later that month, but that changed about two months later when police returned to ask more questions.
“I held that ... in for a long time and it really f**ked me up,” he said.
Under cross-examination, Blades agreed when defence lawyer Alison Craig suggested that some of his memories may have been muddled, “like a game of broken telephone.” He confirmed an earlier statement he made to police, saying he was “half buzzed-up” on wine and marijuana on the night of the alleged killing.
“What you see is black and white,” Blades said. “But what you put in your brain is different.”
Craig then asked if Sandeson had tried to prevent anyone from entering his apartment after the alleged gunshot. Blades said he did not.
Blades told Craig he was aware the accused owned a gun, and when asked to describe what his neighbour was like, Blades said Sandeson was a “soft and anxious” intellectual who “couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag.”
As for McCabe, 30, he confirmed much of what Blades had to say, but his memory was more spotty and his answers were often lacking in detail. He said he had known Sandeson for five years and that their relationship was a close one, but he denied taking part in any of his drug dealings.
Asked to describe Sandeson’s outward behaviour as he and Blades first looked in his apartment, McCabe said: “I just don’t know what his mood was.”
And when asked to describe the motionless man in the chair, McCabe said, “There was blood on his shoulders and on the ground .... There was money and blood on the table and on the ground. I was very shocked and I didn’t know what to think.”
Like his friend, McCabe said he was terrified by what he had seen.
“I didn’t know what happened,” said McCabe, who graduated with a business degree from Dalhousie in 2015. “I don’t know if I wanted to know what happened.”
McCabe said he gave two statements to police soon after Samson disappeared, but denied seeing anything suspicious. His version of events changed on Oct. 27, 2016, when police approached him for a third time.
The court proceeding, now in its fourth 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press