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Murder defendant William Sandeson ‘model client,’ lawyer says

The 24-year-old has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the August 2015 disappearance of fellow Dalhousie University student Taylor Samson. The trial is set for eight weeks in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
William Michael Sandeson, shown at court last year, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the disappearance of fellow Dalhousie University student Taylor Samson in August 2015. (Local Xpress / File)

William Michael Sandeson is a "model client," one of his lawyers said Wednesday after the jury was selected at his first-degree murder trial.

“He is very, very involved with his defence,” lawyer Eugene Tan said of the 24-year-old Sandeson, who is charged in the August 2015 disappearance of fellow Dalhousie University student Taylor Samson.

“He’s reviewed every single piece of evidence that’s been generated. … He knows the case inside out. He knows every piece of information.”

Sandeson’s trial is scheduled to sit for eight weeks in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

Jury selection began Tuesday and wrapped up Wednesday. Seven men and seven women were picked to hear the case.

Lawyers also chose two alternates — a man and a woman.

Crown attorneys Susan MacKay and Kim McOnie will begin calling evidence Thursday after making opening remarks to the jury.

The prosecutors expect to call about 30 people to testify at the trial.

“We’re ready,” Tan said of the defence team, which also includes lawyer Brad Sarson.

Sandeson is sitting next to his lawyers at the defence table, with a laptop computer and notepad in front of him.

Tan said his client received permission from corrections officials to use a computer while on remand to review the evidence in the case.

Sandeson has also used his time in pretrial custody to take a paralegal course “to give himself a better understanding of the law and how to manage his own defence,” the lawyer said.

“I’ve never had a client who’s been this involved, who’s known the case this well, who understands the rules of evidence this well and who is fully participating in every decision that we make,” Tan said. “And not just yes or no, but informed.

“He knows exactly what the case is against him and he’s making very informed decisions.”

Samson, a 22-year-old physics student from Amherst, left his frat house on South Street in Halifax on the evening of Aug. 15, 2015, to sell marijuana. He was reported missing the next day.

Sandeson, a former varsity track athlete who was set to begin classes at medical school, was charged with murder Aug. 20.

Samson’s body has not been found. Police allege he was murdered Aug. 15 at Sandeson’s apartment on Henry Street.

Officers also conducted searches in the Lower Truro area, where Sandeson’s parents live.

Tan said his client is “fairly confident” heading into the trial.

“I don’t want to tip our hand too much, but he understands the case very, very well," Tan said. "He understands the strengths and weaknesses about it and he’s been able to analyze the law.

“At the end of the day, he’s able to draw some conclusions as to what the outcomes could be.”

In his preliminary instructions Wednesday, Justice Josh Arnold urged jurors to use their common sense and experience to assess the evidence they hear during the trial.

Sandeson has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is presumed innocent under Canadian law, Arnold stressed.

“The presumption of innocence means that William Michael Sandeson will start the trial with a clean slate,” the judge said.

“The presumption stays with him throughout the case, including your deliberations at the end of the trial. It is only defeated if and when Crown counsel satisfies you beyond a reasonable doubt that (he) is guilty of the crime charged.”

Arnold said the defendant does not have to testify, present evidence or prove his innocence.

“It is the Crown counsel who must prove (his) guilt … beyond a reasonable doubt,” the judge said.

Arnold said it is not enough for the jury to believe that Sandeson is probably or likely guilty.

“In those circumstances, you must find him not guilty, because Crown counsel would have failed to satisfy you of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The judge said it is impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty, and that is not what the Crown is required to do.

“If at the end of the case, based on all of the evidence, you are sure that (Sandeson) committed the offence, you should find (him) guilty of it,” Arnold said. “If … you are not sure that (he) committed the offence, you should find him not guilty of it.”

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