A first-degree murder trial slated to get underway Tuesday morning in St. John’s has dissolved before it even began, as the judge has granted a request to acquit Daniel Leonard.
Leonard, 38, was arrested and charged in 2016 in connection to the stabbing death of Dale Porter in North River in 2014. He walked free Tuesday morning.
Clean-shaven and wearing a white-collared shirt, Leonard stepped forward to speak briefly to reporters after his acquittal, thanking his family for their support.
In response to questions from media, he said he was going to “start [his] life” after a “very hard, stressful” four years.
During that period, Leonard said he spent a lot of time at home. “But it’s all over now, and I’m just grateful. Thankful,” he said.
He shook his head when asked if there was anything he wanted to say to the family of Dale Porter.
Defence lawyer Bob Buckingham, flanked by Leonard and his supporters, criticized the justice system for allowing the case to reach this point.
The case “should have been done four years ago,” Buckingham said, noting the pressure and stress it had caused his client. He accused the Crown and police of engaging in “tunnel vision” and “grasping at straws,” unable to produce enough evidence to convict Leonard.
“They all fed off each other and pursued a theory that had no basis in reality,” Buckingham said. “There was no reasonable prospect of conviction from Day 1, from my position.”
Outside the courtroom, Crown attorney Sheldon Steeves reiterated he was unable to enter specific evidence due to a judge’s decision three weeks prior.
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He declined to comment further.
Jury selection for Leonard’s trial was set to begin Tuesday morning in Supreme Court, but instead, Crown lawyers stated they had no reasonable prospect of conviction and would not be entering any evidence.
Leonard’s defence asked for an acquittal, and Justice Donald Burrage agreed. Burrage apologized to the dozens of prospective jurors in attendance as he dismissed them and thanked them for showing up.
“This turn of events happens on occasion,” he said.
Biker club ties
Porter, a father of two, trucker and fisherman, was found bleeding and unconscious at the end of his driveway in the Conception Bay North community. He died later in hospital.
A two-year police investigation led to the charges against Leonard, as well as one other man, who has since been convicted in Porter’s death. A jury found Al Potter guilty of first-degree murder in March 2019, a verdict Potter has since appealed.
Both Leonard and Potter were members of the Vikings Motorcycle Club.
During Potter’s trial, Crown lawyers said Porter had disrespected the Vikings Motorcycle Club at a bar the night of his death. After Potter’s verdict, the RCMP said they believed him to be the first biker club member convicted of first-degree murder in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Leonard’s trial was originally slated for September 2019, but was postponed. Tuesday’s jury selection took place at the Newfoundland School for the Deaf to allow for physical distancing.