Jury hears closing arguments in Mac’s murder trial

The Law Courts building in Edmonton. Ed Kaiser / Edmonton Journal

Crown and defence lawyers delivered closing arguments Wednesday in the jury trial of a man accused of killing two convenience store employees in 2015.

Colton James Steinhauer is accused of two counts of first-degree murder for the Dec. 18, 2015, killings of Karanpal Bhangu and Ricky Cenabre, two employees working the early morning shift at separate Mac’s convenience stores in Edmonton.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Steinhauer, Laylin Delorme and a youth drove to a Mac’s convenience store on 82 Street. The three entered, led by Delorme, who carried a pistol. Steinhauer carried a bladed weapon and a bag, which they filled with money, cigarettes and other items.

Just before leaving, Delorme fatally shot Bhangu, the lone clerk. They then travelled to another Mac’s store on 61 Avenue, where they robbed Cenabre. As they were preparing to leave, Steinhauer is handed the gun and then shoots Cenabre, who died of his injuries, the agreed facts state.

Steinhauer earlier offered guilty pleas to manslaughter and second-degree murder for his role in the incidents, which were not accepted by the Crown, his lawyer told the jury.

Prosecutor John Watson argued the Crown had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Steinhauer committed first-degree murder in both killings.

While he allowed they had little direct evidence of premeditation, Watson laid out in his closing argument the circumstantial evidence that he maintains establishes a high degree of planning.

Watson said they picked stores staffed by single employees, and waited for customers to leave. They parked in full view of the clerk, making no effort to hide the Honda Element they were driving.

Watson said in both cases, the males entered the stores in masks and gloves.

He played surveillance footage of both robberies and the subsequent shootings for the jury. He said the three males each had defined roles during the robberies, which he said was evidence of planning.

Watson said none of them carried ropes to tie up the clerk. The gun was loaded, he said, suggesting an unloaded firearm would have worked just as well if robbery was their only intention. Watson said this was because shooting the clerks was the plan all along.

He then asked why Steinhaur shot at the cowering Cenabre even after the robbery was done.

“Why do that?” he asked the jury. “I submit to you because it was part of the plan.”

The three were arrested after a high-speed chase that began when a police officer spotted them eating McDonald’s in their vehicle near a third Mac’s store. The officer recognized Steinhauer’s distinctive jacket from surveillance footage.

Watson said that like a spiderweb, a single thread of circumstantial evidence is weak.

But multiple threads woven together, “at that point the spiderweb is strong,” he said.

Defence lawyer Anna Konye argued the opposite.

Steinhauer called no evidence, so Konye began by acknowledging it was the first time the jury was hearing from her.

She said that unlike in other first-degree murder cases — in which there might be evidence of steps taken to plan a killing — what happened prior to that night was a “vacuum.”

For example, she said, the exact relationship between Steinhauer and the other men, how long they’d been together, and whether her client initially knew a loaded firearm was involved were all unclear.

“There’s no evidence there was any plan by anyone to kill someone that night,” she said.

She said the Crown had not proven its case, and that Watson’s summation of the surveillance footage was not in itself evidence of what happened.

As for Steinhauer’s role in the first shooting, she said his “mere presence” was not enough to convict on first-degree murder.

She said that to the extent there was pre-planning, it was pre-planning for robberies.

As for the shot fired at Cenabre, she said it was a “blind shot over the counter” that might not have been intended to kill.

She concluded by telling the jury its role is not to prove her client innocent, but rather to decide whether the Crown had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Konye invited the jury to convict on manslaughter on the first count and second-degree murder on the second.

Justice Ken Nielsen is expected to deliver his charge to the 14-member jury Thursday morning, at which point they will be sequestered for deliberations.