Incriminating text messages and selfie photos on a phone seized by anti-gang police officers helped convince a judge on Friday (Oct. 9) of the guilt of one of three men arrested following a beating, a pre-planned robbery and a kidnapping last year in the middle of a deadly Kamloops gang war.
However, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan Smith said prosecutors failed to link a gun seized by police to the violent crime spree, meaning the time Michael Mathieson is likely to spend behind bars will be much shorter than it could have been.
Mathieson, 40, stood trial over three weeks in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops on charges of armed robbery, unlawful confinement, kidnapping with a firearm and assault. Smith found him guilty of unlawful confinement, robbery, kidnapping and assault.
Police stumbled upon a kidnapping in progress in the early-morning hours of Feb. 14, 2019, while monitoring a wiretap as part of a separate ongoing investigation.
Court heard the violent spree began hours earlier when a man was beaten inside a suite at the Hospitality Inn in Lower Sahai. Mathieson was one of the assailants. The victim told police he was beaten, burned with a lighter and struck with a Taser-like weapon in the neck and genitals.
Mathieson and another man then went to the Acadian Inn on the east end of downtown and entered a suite, holding a couple against their will. Mathieson then texted an acquaintance, pretending to be someone else, luring him to the suite with the promise of money.
When the target arrived with his girlfriend and a friend, the two men were robbed, strip-searched and hog-tied. The woman was then kidnapped and taken to the target’s home in Dallas, which was ransacked, then to Kelowna.
In Kelowna, Mathieson handed the kidnapped woman over to a driver, to be taken back to Kamloops. She was rescued by police during a high-risk traffic stop in Falkland, after which Mounties found a bag containing a gun and a bottle of vodka with Mathieson’s fingerprint on it.
Mathieson was arrested three days later by gang-enforcement police. His Samsung phone was seized and searched, turning up information linking him to the robbery and kidnapping and identifying himself as “Mike” and “Mathieson.” Selfies on the phone also showed Mathieson’s face, court heard.
The issue at trial was identity. Mathieson’s lawyers, Dustin Gagnon and Joe Killoran, poked holes in the credibility of Crown witnesses, some of whom were people struggling with addiction and with little apparent reason to co-operate with police or prosecutors.
In handing down his decision, Smith noted those credibility problems, but found that, when coupled with the circumstantial evidence turned up on the seized Samsung phone, it was enough to convict.
“If the Crown’s case rested entirely on that circumstantial evidence, it may not be enough for a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Smith said. “This case is not based entirely on the circumstantial evidence.”
Had Smith found Mathieson guilty of the firearms-related charges, he could have been facing a mandatory five extra years behind bars.
He is still likely to receive a stiff sentence, though. Justin Daniels, charged alongside Mathieson, pleaded guilty in August and was sentenced on Friday, just before Smith’s decision, to 7.5 years in a federal penitentiary.
Daniels, 40, pleaded guilty to counts of armed robbery, kidnapping with a firearm and robbery — the latter count relating to the Hospitality Inn incident. After being given credit for time served, his sentence was shortened to 5.5 years.
In addition to the prison time, Daniels was handed a lifetime firearms ban and ordered to submit a sample of his DNA to a national criminal database.
A third accused, Robert Rennie, has been on the lam since he was granted bail in April. A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The incidents took place in the middle of a bloody Kamloops gang war that left three people dead and others injured.
Mathieson, who moved from Kamloops to the Lower Mainland after he was charged, will return to court on Nov. 4 in Vancouver to set a date for sentencing. He is not in custody.