TORONTO — A new trial has been ordered for an Ontario man who beat his roommate to death with a hammer in a drunken confrontation over the other man’s alleged sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
Toby Land appealed his second-degree murder conviction in the May 2009 killing of Dominic Doyon, arguing the judge was wrong to rule out the defence of provocation.
Had the defence been presented to the jury, Land argued he could have been convicted of manslaughter instead, which would allow for a lower sentence. Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
In a ruling released last week, Ontario’s highest court found the trial judge erred in determining that Land could not claim provocation because he had initiated the confrontation while armed.
The three-member appeal panel said the trial judge failed to consider whether Land, who anticipated that Doyon may become violent, could have realistically predicted that his roommate would reach for a samurai sword.
The appeal court added that Doyon’s comments about his relationship with the teen during the dispute could also count as provocation, particularly for Land, who “was raised in a sexually abusive home.”
“This confrontation arose out of Mr. Doyon’s alleged sexually abusive conduct. Mr. Land’s personal reaction to that conduct would obviously be affected by his experiences,” the court wrote.
“Mr. Land, an Indigenous man, then 24 years old, had a horrendous past. It scarred him deeply,” it said. “He left his home with substance abuse issues and with a violent aversion to sexual abusers. On numerous occasions prior to May 4, 2009, Mr. Land attacked men he knew to be sexual abusers.”
The decision said Land was angered by his 33-year-old roommate’s relationship with the teen, and the pair had clashed over the issue in the past. On two occasions, the dispute turned physical, with Doyon gaining the upper hand, it said.
One day, Land said he came home to find Doyon and the teen shirtless on the couch, the document said, and he remained “deeply troubled” hours later.
After drinking about eight beers, Land decided to confront Doyon but feared for his safety, so he armed himself with a hammer and held it at his side as he addressed his roommate, it said.
He then noticed Doyon had a samurai sword _ which had previously hung on the wall or been kept beside the couch or window _ with him on the couch, the decision said.
Doyon grabbed the sword’s handle as he got up and said something about how he could do whatever he wanted with his life, it said.
Land told the court he felt like he snapped and “just reacted,” the document said. He vaguely remembered hitting Doyon in the arms with the hammer and said his next memory was of his other roommate pulling him back and, he believed, pulling the sword from his hands, it said.
“Mr. Land said he could not control his thoughts and his actions,” the appeal court said.
In fact, Land had “engaged in a frenzied attack upon Mr. Doyon, hitting him dozens of times with the hammer, including about the head,” it said.
Doyon was also stabbed repeatedly with the sword and beaten with a pair of crutches, it said.
The appeal court said the defence of provocation “had an air of reality and should have been left with the jury.”