Coquitlam drive-by shooter denied appeal

The Coquitlam man sought an appeal for a violent night in which he bear-maced someone in the face and shot up a house as payback for an unpaid drug debt

A Coquitlam man has been denied an appeal for a violent 2014 night in which he bear-maced someone in the face and fired up to six gunshots at a house as payback for an unpaid drug debt.

Joshua Hames Michael Hall, 21 years old at the time of his crimes, had been dealing drugs for some time.

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One of his customers, Izsabella Franco, had bought cannabis from Hall 10 months earlier but had forgotten to pay the $40 she owed him, she testified, because she found out she was pregnant and was in shock. 

Franco, who lived with her mother and other family members in the upper level of a house on Coquitlam’s Alderson Avenue, found herself on the wrong end of a drug dealer demanding payment.

The drug debt owed was dated, found the judge, but not forgotten.

When, in a Facebook message, Franco wrote Hall she would not or could not pay, Hall replied, “[I] always get paid,” and if she did not pay, “[t]hen ur [sic] mom will pay end of story,” according to the Jan. 10 ruling.

Late at night, May 18, 2014, Hall showed up at the lower level apartment below Franco’s residence. Caleb Sorenson was playing video games and was getting ready for bed. When he opened the door, Hall discharged a can of bear spray in his face and fled after Sorenson body-checked the door shut, shattering the glass panes.

Police and ambulance attended the scene as the debilitating discharge flooded both the downstairs and upstairs residences, choking the occupants and sending Franco’s infant to Royal Columbian hospital.

Hall wasn’t finished.

Around midnight, Samantha Fenton — who was dependent on OxyCotin and heroin at the time and worked for Hall in the drug trade — got a call: would she drive Hall around to confront someone who owed him money?

Fenton, described in court documents as “an unsavoury witness,” told the court she and Hall pulled up to the Alderson residence in the early hours of May 19. 

She testified she had agreed to drive Hall to two locations in her silver PT Cruiser, and admitted she had lied to police earlier when she told them Hall and others had used her car without her permission.  

At trial, Fenton admitted she was the driver, and it was her who pulled the PT Cruiser alongside the house on Alderson Avenue. From the front passenger seat, Hall fired at the house five or six times through the car window, she said.

Fenton was in shock, she testified, her adrenaline was flowing and with “what was going on I couldn’t really — I was just focused on the area more than what was going on inside my vehicle.” 

Police never recovered the weapon used to fire the .22 calibre bullets at the Alderson residence. 

Fenton said she sped away from the scene, and while no one in the car could have known it at the time, no one had been shot inside.

At around 6 a.m., Fenton said she drove Hall and another person to an area along Brunette Avenue to buy cigarettes and grab breakfast at A&W. That’s when Hall jumped out of the car and ran over to the ground floor window of what Fenton described as a derelict, light grey apartment building. 

Inside the ground floor apartment lived Lyla Mervyn. She knew Hall, later testifying he had left her a drunken voicemail message saying he was going to burn down her building. At some point between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m., Mervyn heard the sound of smashed glass. When she got up to see what was going on, Mervyn found a rifle (not the gun used in the drive-by shooting) thrown onto her living room floor.

The initial trial turned on identifying who fired the gunshots. With the help of Fenton’s testimony, on Feb. 10, 2017, the original trial judge convicted Hall of two counts of mischief and wilfully damaging the two residences; one count of intentionally and recklessly discharging a firearm into a place where he knew someone was present; and one count of carelessly using a firearm.

Hall was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018. 

In appealing the trial judge’s decision, Hall’s lawyer argued that the judge erred in the original conviction, including that she failed to properly interpret forensic evidence and consider whether some of the details noted by Fenton had been fed to her by police. Fenton, the defence said, lied in her testimony.

One eye-witness said he saw the PT Cruiser flee the scene in the opposite direction Fenton said she had driven away, meaning that — contrary to Fenton’s testimony — the gunshots would have had to come from the driver’s side window. 

Fenton’s testimony was further thrown into question when an RCMP forensic identification officer, who took photos at the scene, determined that the gunshot trajectories told a different story: at one point, the shooter was moving.

According to the appeal judges, everything the defence argued, hinged on the fact that Fenton’s evidence was the only evidence capable of proving the identity of the accused as the perpetrator and that her evidence must meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In denying Hall’s appeal, the judges characterized the idea that Fenton’s testimony was tainted by police procedures as “speculative theory.”

The inconsistencies in Fenton’s testimony, they ruled, were counterbalanced by her detailed account of the violent night in 2014.

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