Gardner found guilty in death of Mountain barber
After a four-week trial and two days of jury deliberations, 25year-old Odain Gardner has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 40-yearold Neil Harris, who was gunned down in his barbershop on Upper Wellington Street on Feb. 18, 2016.
Erick Reid, 27, who was also accused of first-degree murder, was instead found guilty by the jury of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Tanya Harris, who was married to Neil for 14 years, cried softly when the first-degree murder verdict was read by the jury foreman at 4:30 p.m.
“Our home is broken and will never be the same,” she said outside court. “I’m happy the jury got it right, but it doesn’t bring him back.”
On the last afternoon of his life, Harris was serving customers in his barbershop when two men entered. Within the span of 18 seconds he was shot, but managed to make it out onto the sidewalk where he collapsed.
The Crown suggested the accused men had a plan to kill Harris “with ruthless efficiency” and entered the shop with “murderous intent.”
In order to meet the threshold of first-degree murder, a homicide must be “planned and deliberate.”
The Crown suggested such evidence could be inferred from how quickly the pair was in and out of the shop, stealing nothing and exchanging no words, and that they disposed of the gun and their clothes afterwards.
Evidence of motive for murdering Harris was never suggested in the Crown’s case.
One of the Crown’s key witnesses was a man who had been waiting for a haircut as Harris was attacked. The man, whose name can not be published under a court order, is part of a police witness protection program.
The danger to witnesses was one of the dark undercurrents of the trial.
Reid’s Toronto-based lawyer, Monte MacGregor, told The Spectator that had his client pointed the finger at Gardner at trial as the shooter, Reid might have received a lesser conviction, but chose not to out of fear.
“He has to go back to jail and has to be able to say: ‘I didn’t identify this person.’ That’s the code they live by. You can be killed, your family can be killed. He needs to be able to survive past this verdict, that’s what it comes down to.”
Gardner’s conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Reid will be sentenced this fall. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life; the minimum is a suspended sentence.
When the jury foreman read the manslaughter verdict for his client, MacGregor yelled: “Yes!”
The courtroom was packed, including 10 Hamilton homicide detectives, and family and friends of Harris and Gardner.
MacGregor said Reid has nine brothers and sisters who live in Toronto, but none of his family attended the trial.
“(Reid) didn’t want to put them through it. They wouldn’t even know this (verdict) is happening today, is my guess.”
When it was over, Tanya Harris stood in the sun outside John Sopinka Courthouse, wearing a large gold ring on a necklace — Neil’s ring.
“I’ve worn it since the start of the trial, it brings me comfort knowing he is here.”
She planned to visit Our Lady of Angels cemetery in Stoney Creek later that evening and talk to her husband, as she often does.
“I know he’s listening to me. Whenever I’m down I get signs from him, he lets me know things will be OK.”