Gard­ner found guilty in death of Mountain bar­ber

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - JON WELLS jwells@thes­ 905-526-3515 | @jon­jwells

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.”

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