An individual convicted of the murder of an innocent coffee shop customer in Montreal in 2016 will be entitled to a new trial. A Court of Appeal judge found that the trial judge erred in law in admitting evidence of “unbecoming conduct” that may have harmed the defendant, Jeff Joubens Theus, who was convicted of first degree murder by a jury in March 2019.
The victim in this case, Angelo D’Onofrio, 72, was seated peacefully at the Hillside café, rue Fleury, as he did every day, on June 2, 2016, when he was shot several times by an individual who confused him with a member of the Montreal Mafia.
In the months that followed, the SPVM’s Major Crimes investigators launched a major investigation, dubbed Mazout, to elucidate this assassination and other crimes.
Several individuals were arrested the following year, including Theus, who was sentenced to life in prison, without eligibility for parole for 25 years, after being convicted of first degree murder.
But during the trial, the prosecution broadcast a conversation captured by the police and held 11 months after the murder of Mr. D’Onofrio between an individual and Theus, during which the latter said, speaking of a third person : “he was in nappies and I was already drawing people”.
In appealing the guilty plea, the defense argued, among other things, that this statement is evidence of disgraceful conduct that should have been excluded from the evidence.
“Nothing in the evidence connects the statement of the appellant (Theus) to the murder charged, except the use of the verb to shoot which denotes a similarity. […] To conclude that the appellant was implying the murder of Mr. D’Onofrio, the jury must have misused this evidence. He could only speculate or figure that because at some indeterminate time the caller was already shooting people, he presumably shot Mr. D’Onofrio, so he had to talk about this murder. These are inferences the jury could not draw. […] The judge’s warning (to the jury) did not eliminate the risk of moral prejudice inherent in the admissibility of the statement. On the contrary, it invited the jury to follow faulty reasoning,” wrote Judge Suzanne Gagné of the Court of Appeal in her decision.
In addition to his life sentence which has just fallen, Theus is currently serving an eight-year sentence imposed in May 2020 for a home invasion case.
Subtracting the time spent in pre-trial detention, he will soon have served two-thirds of that sentence, and it is unclear whether he could regain his freedom pending his retrial for Mr. D’Onofrio’s murder.
“We are satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal”, was content to declare to The Press Mand Élizabeth Ménard, who represents Theus with Mand Audrey-Bianca Chabauty.
To reach Daniel Renaud, dial 514 285-7000, ext. 4918, write to [email protected] or write to the postal address of The Press.