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Man found guilty in fatal Fernwood home-invasion

Andrew Johnathan Belcourt has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of Leslie Hankel, a mentally ill man who was attacked in his apartment during a robbery.
Justice court generic photo
Andrew Johnathan Belcourt has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of Leslie Hankel, a mentally ill man who was attacked in his Fernwood apartment during a robbery.

Andrew Johnathan Belcourt has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of Leslie Hankel, a mentally ill man who was attacked in his apartment during a robbery.

Belcourt had previously been found guilty of second-degree murder in Hankel’s death in a 2012 trial, but appealed based on the assertion that the trial judge had not properly instructed the jury as to whether he had the necessary intent for murder.

Hankel’s sisters expressed relief after Friday’s guilty verdict, and said they were happy Belcourt wasn’t convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter. Belcourt offered to plead guilty to manslaughter at the start of the trial but was turned down by the Crown.

“It was pretty brutal what happened to him,” said Kathy Rogers. “He was a true victim out of this. He didn’t have any connection with these people, he didn’t know them.

“I can’t imagine what his last few minutes were like.”

Mary Beech stressed that her brother wasn’t a drug dealer: “He was a good person.”

Hankel’s neighbours had wonderful things to say about him after he died, she said.

“He did not deserve this,” Beech said. “Because he had a disability, he wasn’t likely to cause a fuss anywhere.”

During the trial, the Crown asserted that Belcourt and Samuel McGrath planned a home invasion at Hankel’s suite to steal what they thought was a large amount of marijuana. Only a small tin of marijuana was found.

Hankel, who had paranoid schizophrenia, lived alone. Belcourt and McGrath, armed with a shotgun and wearing masks, went to Hankel’s Pembroke Street residence about 1 a.m. on March 2, 2010, the Crown said.

Hankel was hit with the shotgun and his apartment was ransacked. The gun went off twice, one shot hitting Hankel in the neck and face and killing him almost instantly.

Belcourt said the shots were accidental, but Crown prosecutor Patrick Weir told the jury that was not true.

Outside court, Weir said the verdict means the jury believed Belcourt intended to kill Hankel when the trigger was pulled.

Weir said second-degree murder carries a life sentence with a minimum mandatory period of 10 years in prison before being eligible for parole.

“It is some closure for the family,” Weir said of the verdict.

“Mr. Hankel, of course, was well loved. He was an uncle, he was a brother, he was a friend to many and his death was a tragic incident that occurred in the Fernwood neighbourhood, that I suspect the community itself is still recovering from.”

Jurors deliberated for just under 48 hours before returning with their verdict. Belcourt will be sentenced in March.

jwbell@timescolonist.com