EDMONTON—A jury will begin deliberating on whether a father and son are guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the deaths of two Métis hunters after a two-week trial wrapped on Monday with final arguments from lawyers on both sides.
The trial has centred on the night of March 27, 2020, when Jacob Sansom, 39, and Morris Cardinal, 57, were gunned down at a rural intersection just north of the farming village of Glendon in eastern Alberta.
Anthony Bilodeau, 33, and his father Roger Bilodeau, 59, were charged with two counts of second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty.
Sansom and Cardinal had been hunting earlier in the day before driving to Glendon to skin a moose they’d shot. They drank beer and visited with friends before setting out in Sansom’s Dodge truck after 9 p.m. on March 27.
Sansom and Cardinal appeared to have ended up near Roger Bilodeau’s property that night. Roger and his 16-year-old son Joseph thought Sansom’s truck suspicious and decided to follow it, reaching speeds of about 150 km/h.
They called Anthony Bilodeau, telling him to come meet them, and to bring a gun.
The Crown prosecutors say that Roger and Anthony Bilodeau intended to kill Sansom and Cardinal that night. The defence is arguing that the two men acted in self-defence.
Anthony Bilodeau testified that as it was approaching 10 p.m., he got a phone call from Roger Bilodeau notifying him that he was chasing a truck and that Anthony Bilodeau should bring a gun for protection. Joseph Bilodeau, Anthony’s brother, was in the truck with Roger as they pursued the men. The phone call lasted about two and a half minutes before the two Bilodeau men would come face to face with Sansom at a rural intersection.
Crown prosecutor Jeff Rudiak told the jury on Monday that the case was one of the Bilodeau men “taking the law into your own hands” and also one of “tragic results.”
“These two fellas did nothing wrong,” Rudiak said of Sansom and Cardinal.
Sansom and Cardinal were near Roger Bilodeau’s property but didn’t enter it or arm themselves, Rudiak said. Roger Bilodeau decided to pursue the truck, Rudiak said, at high speed and for about seven kilometres.
“He’s chasing them,” Rudiak said. “He’s the one that wants the gun.”
Roger Bilodeau’s lawyer, Shawn Gerstel, asked the jury to consider why Roger would bring his 16-year-old son with him if he believed violence would occur that night. He said Roger was a father of nine, a religious man and a hardworking farmer with no criminal history.
“Does it make sense that Roger’s reaction to seeing a vehicle in his yard would be to chase them down and murder them in cold blood?” he said.
“I suggest not only does that theory not make any reasonable sense, the evidence does not support it beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Anthony Bilodeau’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, argued that Anthony was sleep deprived that night and that could have led him to be more fearful when he came upon the intersection where Sansom, Cardinal and the two Bilodeau men were parked.
“He was dealing with a sudden event on a cold, prairie, dark night,” Beresh told the jury. “He was operating on limited information.”
Just prior to Anthony’s arrival, Anthony testified during the trial, he got the call from Joseph’s phone and heard his dad tell him that they’d caught thieves and to bring a gun. Then, during the phone call that continued while he drove toward his brother and father, he heard a window smash and an unidentified man say, “Go get a knife so I can kill these f—ers.” Anthony said he heard a “scuffle” and his brother screaming “Don’t kill my dad!” over and over.
When Anthony arrived at the scene, he testified, he saw a man with his hands up around his father’s neck. He couldn’t see Joseph, he said. He loaded his .30-30 calibre gun, stepped out of the vehicle, which was parked just behind Sansom’s, and racked it, court heard.
The shootings were caught on a nearby surveillance camera as well, the footage of which was played in court several times during the two-week trial.
Sansom can be seen walking toward Anthony right after Anthony steps onto the road. Anthony testified he thought Sansom would try and grab his gun and that he also said to Cardinal: “Go get my gun, let’s kill this motherf—er.”
Anthony took some steps back and then shot Sansom in the chest.
The Crown argues that it was Anthony who escalated the situation by loading his gun and stepping out of his truck that night. At this point in the footage, Cardinal is inside Sansom’s truck and there had been a de-escalation in the encounter, argued Rudiak.
“That’s what this was,” he said. “Introducing a gun to a simple fist fight.”
Anthony Bilodeau also testified that Cardinal said he would kill him because he’d just killed Sansom.
In the surveillance footage, it appears that Cardinal points a gun at Anthony after Sansom is shot. Anthony retreats across the road, away from Cardinal, before shooting Cardinal as he stands near Sansom’s truck. Cardinal retreats behind Sansom’s truck before Anthony runs over and shoots him again.
Rudiak said Roger Bilodeau was the “architect” of the whole incident by chasing the men and asking Anthony to bring a gun, even though it was Anthony who pulled the trigger.
Once the shooting was over, no one called the police or an ambulance. The Crown argued that the two men tried to cover it up and that both Roger and Anthony denied knowing anything when first interviewed by police. Anthony also cut up the gun he used and threw it in the dump. It wasn’t until several days later that he told police where it was.
He also altered his vehicle by removing lights on the front of it and disposing of them in a different location than the cut-up gun. The lights weren’t found.
The defence has argued that Anthony was scared and that’s why he lied to police and covered his tracks.
Both defence lawyers also emphasized to the jury the blood alcohol levels in the two hunters. Sansom’s was 2.9 times the legal driving limit while Cardinal’s was 1.7 times higher.
Beresh argued that Roger set out to simply talk to Sansom and Cardinal that night. He also said that the police were too far away to quickly respond to the situation that unravelled in the rural area.
Beresh said that Sansom and Cardinal escalated the interaction toward violence when Sansom approached Roger’s truck and smashed out the passenger side window with his fist before attacking Joseph.
Rudiak also argued that right when Roger pulled his truck in front of Sansom’s that night, and Sansom began walking towards it, Roger attempted to back into Sansom before getting his truck stuck in a ditch. The defence has argued that this wasn’t Roger’s intent — he was simply trying to back up and leave.
Still, argued Beresh, Anthony Bilodeau acted in self-defence that night and didn’t bring his gun with an intent to kill — he simply wanted it for protection. When he heard over the phone the smashing of the window and the words of his brother, he felt as though they were having their lives threatened and he felt scared.
“We don’t make any bones about it,” Beresh told the jury. “Had Anthony not arrived, Roger and Joseph Bilodeau would not have survived that night.”
Justice Eric Macklin, during his instructions to the jury, said that both men were facing two counts of second-degree murder. Both deaths must be considered separately, he said.
Macklin said the jury could find the two Bilodeau men guilty of manslaughter, second-degree murder, or acquit them.
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