Family wants Degrassi actor retried

Family wants Degrassi actor retried

By GAY ABBATE
COURTS REPORTER
Wednesday, July 14, 2004 – Page A8

The family of Christopher Shelton, who had dreams of being a lawyer, was devastated when a jury acquitted former child actor Tyson Talbot of second-degree murder.

Now that the Crown has appealed the verdict, Mr. Shelton’s relatives are hoping the province’s highest court will order a new trial for the former actor who appeared in the first two Degrassi television series.

“The verdict was totally so wrong,” Mr. Shelton’s mother, Theresa, said in an interview.

“An appeal was the right thing to do.”

A jury acquitted Mr. Talbot, 32, on June 4 after a two-week trial. He was charged with second-degree murder after he punched Mr. Shelton outside a restaurant on Gerrard Street East at Broadview Avenue on Nov. 20, 2002.

Mr. Shelton was sucker punched and fell backward, smashing the back of his head on the pavement. Mr. Talbot then kicked him in the face as he lay unconscious, the jury was told.

A pathologist gave the cause of death as complications resulting from the blow on the pavement, which fractured the skull and caused the brain to swell and bleed. The kick exacerbated the bleeding, court heard.

The jury rejected the Crown’s case that Mr. Talbot acted deliberately to harm Mr. Shelton. Instead, they accepted enough of Mr. Talbot’s argument of self-defence that they had a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

He argued that Mr. Shelton was one of three men who harassed him and two women with him. He testified that he lashed out only because he believed the men were about to attack him. None of them laid a finger on him, however.

After the jury returned its verdict, a family member yelled out, “Don’t you know his record?”

The jury did not, having heard only a sanitized version of Mr. Talbot’s lengthy criminal record. Jurors were not told that seven of his 25 convictions involved violence. That omission was deliberate on the part of the defence to prevent the jurors from concluding that Mr. Talbot was guilty because of his propensity for violence.

The ruling by trial judge Madam Justice Gloria Epstein of Ontario Superior Court not to allow full disclosure of the criminal record to the jury forms the basis of the appeal. All of the Crown’s 10 grounds for appeal cited in the notice of appeal relate to that controversial decision. The Crown opposed it when it was argued as a pretrial motion in the absence of the jury.

A date for the appeal has not been set, but a Crown attorney has been appointed to argue the case before the province’s highest court. Because the trial resulted in an acquittal, the Court of Appeal will automatically hear the matter without the Crown first having to seek leave to appeal.

The notice of appeal filed June 25 states that Judge Epstein also erred in not considering the prejudicial effect on the Crown’s case of excluding the prior convictions for violence.

The judge also erred, another ground states, in failing to find that the defence’s attack on the credibility of the Crown’s witnesses increased the probative value of Mr. Talbot’s entire criminal history.

And the appeal notice also faults the judge for failing to consider Mr. Talbot’s assault on prison guards while awaiting trial as “a crime against the administration of justice.”

In her address to the jury the judge also failed to take into account that Mr. Talbot’s convictions for robbery were crimes of dishonesty and reflected on his credibility as a witness.

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