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Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in Sammy Yatim death

Last Updated Jan 26, 2016 at 7:25 am EDT

Toronto police Const. James Forcillo has been found guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault, but not guilty of more serious charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2013 streetcar shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim.

A conviction for attempted murder with a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison.

Jurors ultimately found that Forcillo was justified in firing the first volley of shots which felled Yatim, but he was guilty when he fired a second series of shots when the teen was already gravely wounded on the floor of the streetcar.

Jurors reached their verdict on Monday morning on the sixth day of deliberations.

Forcillo’s lawyer, Peter Brauti, called it a “trial by YouTube” and said he would seek a stay of proceedings, and likely an appeal in March or April.

In the meantime, Forcillo will be free on bail.

“There are no words to describe the pain I have endured as a father, losing my only son at the hands of a police officer,” said Bill Yatim in an email statement.

Yatim’s father said that his son was troubled that night and “his actions were out of character.”

He added that his son had tried to borrow a cell phone to call him.

“I often wonder what would have happened if he had been able to reach me and if the police response had been different,” he said.

The trial has been taxing for the father and he said he’s relieved that Forcillo “has been found guilty.”

Yatim’s father thanked the SIU, legal team, the jury and the public and media.

He ended the statement by saying “this simply cannot happen again.”

Brauti suggested that the jury may have been tainted by watching widely-shared video evidence of the shooting which was posted online by a bystander.

“Within seven minutes of it taking place it was posted to YouTube,” he said.  “I think we started behind the eight-ball on this one. That’s why we asked for a change of venue…I’m concerned about a compromised verdict in this case.”

Brauti’s request for a change of venue out of Toronto was denied. So was his attempt to launch a “suicide by cop” defence.

“We were shocked that we weren’t allowed to put that to the jury,” he added. “I believe it would have changed the outcome on the attempt murder charge.”

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said Forcillo was “shocked and disappointed” by the verdict, which sends a “chilling message” to front-line officers.

“Are they going to hesitate when they should take action?” McCormack asked. “Is it going to cause a safety concern for us and our front-line officers and the public?”

McCormack said Forcillo’s defence team would move forward on a stay of proceedings on the grounds that he was following his training when he shot Yatim.

He also said the case would prompt a review of police training.

In his instruction to the jury earlier this week, Justice Edward Then said the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Forcillo was guilty of second-degree murder.

During the trial, which got underway in October of last year, the jury heard Yatim had taken the drug ecstasy before boarding a streetcar.

Videos and audio played at the trial have shown that Forcillo arrived on the scene, yelled repeatedly at Yatim to drop the knife, and after a 50-second confrontation fired nine bullets at the teen.

Forcillo, who testified in his own defence, said he “never wanted to kill anybody.” He testified he feared an attack from the knife-wielding Yatim, which was why – in accordance with all his police training – he fired his gun.

Only 11 police officers have ever been charged with second degree murder or with manslaughter and with each case they were all found not guilty.

Facts from the case:

THE VICTIM: Sammy Yatim. Evidence at the trial has shown that the 18-year-old had ecstasy in his system when he boarded the streetcar on which he died. A jury has heard Yatim exposed himself and pulled out a small knife while he was sitting at the back of the vehicle, sparking a panicked exodus.

THE ACCUSED: Const. James Forcillo, a 32-year-old police officer who had been with the force for three and a half years when he killed Yatim. He was released on bail shortly after his arrest and has been working at Crimestoppers since February 2014 after his suspension was lifted.

THE CONFRONTATION: The interaction between Yatim, who was on an empty streetcar, and Forcillo, who was on the street, lasted about 50 seconds. Forcillo pointed his gun at Yatim and repeatedly yelled at the teen to drop the knife he was holding. Yatim refused and hurled expletives at police. Forcillo fired after Yatim, who had taken a few steps into the body of the streetcar, moved back to the spot at the top of the vehicle’s stairs, where he had been standing before.

THE CHARGES: Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in Yatim’s death. He pleaded not guilty.

THE VERDICT: Guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault. Not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter