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Video shows murder victim at Sandeson’s apartment building, Halifax jury told

William Michael Sandeson, 24, is on trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on a charge of first-degree murder in the August 2015 disappearance of fellow Dalhousie University student Taylor Samson.
William Michael Sandeson, shown at court last year, faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Taylor Samson. His trial was told Thursday that Samson was last seen on a video walking outside Sandeson's apartment. (LOCAL XPRESS / File)

Taylor Samson was last seen on video walking down a hallway outside William Michael Sandeson’s apartment, a Halifax jury heard Thursday.

In her opening address at Sandeson’s murder trial, Crown attorney Susan MacKay said the evidence will show Samson went to the Halifax apartment on the night of Aug. 15, 2015, to complete a drug deal.

The Crown alleges Samson had agreed to sell 20 pounds of marijuana to Sandeson, a fellow Dalhousie University student, for $40,000.

“But for Taylor Samson, things didn’t work out as planned,” MacKay said.

Samson, a 22-year-old physics student from Amherst who lived at a frat house around the corner from Sandeson’s place, was reported missing the next day.

Sandeson, who was about to begin medical school, was charged with first-degree murder on Aug. 20.

Samson’s remains have not been found.

Sandeson, 24, is on trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Thirty-two days of court time have been set aside for the case, which is being heard by a jury of seven men and seven women.

MacKay said the Crown intends to produce evidence that, pieced together, “will form the clear picture of William Sandeson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

She then outlined the evidence that the Crown expects to call to prove that Sandeson murdered Samson at his apartment.

The missing-person case was reassigned to major-crime investigators after Samson’s girlfriend mentioned to his mother that he had gone out to do a drug deal involving four pounds of pot.

Police learned that the last call on Samson’s cellphone was to a number registered at an IP address in Lower Sackville, which turned out to be a group home for people with intellectual disabilities.

A co-worker at the home texted Sandeson to tell him police wanted to talk to him about Samson.

Sandeson called police the next morning, Aug. 18, and agreed to meet with them at the police station that afternoon.

He was not considered a suspect at that point, MacKay said, but police hoped he had information that could help them locate Samson.

When he met with police, Sandeson allegedly said he was supposed to purchase a small amount of marijuana, but Samson never showed up.

Sandeson downloaded a texting app onto his cellphone and let police take photos of his messages.

Police gave Sandeson a drive home, MacKay said, after he told them he was walking because his car was in the garage at Canadian Tire for an appointment.

MacKay said police examined Sandeson’s texts shortly afterward and saw discussions between him and Samson about 20 pounds of marijuana for $40,000.

One text indicated that Samson had been right outside Sandeson’s building, the prosecutor told the jury.

Police placed Sandeson under surveillance and made an emergency entry into his apartment around suppertime to see if Samson was there.

They did not find Samson but secured the apartment while a search warrant was obtained. Sandeson was arrested that evening, Aug.18.

After his arrest, Sandeson gave police differing versions of his encounter with Samson, MacKay said.

Sandeson at first said he didn’t know what had happened to Samson but later is alleged to have told police Samson was shot in the back of his head by intruders at his apartment.

Police allegedly found blood in the apartment that matched Samson’s DNA profile.

MacKay said DNA matching Samson’s was also found on a handgun locked in a safe in Sandeson’s bedroom and on a bullet removed from a window casing in the kitchen.

The prosecutor said three video surveillance cameras at Sandeson’s building were connected to a recording system in his bedroom.

Video from the hallway showed Samson carrying a black, hockey-style duffel bag when he arrived just before 10:30 p.m.

The recording system was shut off that night from about 11:30 p.m. until about 1 a.m., MacKay said.

She said video shows Sandeson cleaning the trunk of his car the next morning. DNA matching Samson’s profile was allegedly found in the trunk.

When investigators tracked Sandeson’s cellphone activity, they determined the phone had been in the Truro area on Aug. 18, just before he met with police.

Police searched property in Lower Truro, where Sandeson’s parents live, and allegedly seized items such as a shower curtain, a pair of gloves and a hockey bag with a ripped shoulder strap.

DNA matching Samson’s profile was allegedly found on some of those items as well.

Video allegedly shows Sandeson leaving his apartment building with a small appliance box and a black duffel bag on the morning of Aug. 17. 

Police later got a call from a lawyer for two men who lived with Sandeson’s brother at an apartment on Chestnut Street in Halifax. Police went to the residence and seized 20 pounds of marijuana in a small appliance box and a duffel bag.

MacKay said Sandeson had dropped the pot off at the residence. DNA matching Samson’s was found on the items.

The first witness to testify was Linda Boutilier, Samson’s mother, who said he was supposed to visit her in Amherst for Sunday dinner Aug. 16 but didn’t show up.

Boutilier said she drove to Halifax that night after learning her son was missing. She and his friends searched his neighbourhood, looking under bushes and inside garbage bins.

“I went to police to tell them I knew it was more than a missing person,” she said. “Something had happened to my son.”

Boutilier gave two statements to police on Aug. 17. She and her other son later provided DNA samples when asked for them.

On cross-examination, Boutilier admitted she knew Samson was selling marijuana to help support himself while attending university.  “I didn’t like it, but I was aware,” she said.

She said she was shocked to learn after his disappearance that he was selling in such large quantities.

Boutilier said she heard the names of three or four people that Samson might have met that night, but Sandeson’s name wasn’t one of them.

Samson had autoimmune liver disease and was taking daily medication, his mother said.

She told police her son would be OK without his medication for up to a week, as long as he didn’t consume alcohol.

Boutilier said her son was six-foot-five and weighed at least 200 pounds. She told police he had a temper and knew how to fight.

She told police Samson “can take on three people and put them down flat.”

The jury also heard testimony Thursday from four Halifax Regional Police officers.

Sgt. Tanya Chambers-Spriggs was one of the officers who met with Boutilier at the police station on the morning of Aug. 17.

Chambers-Spriggs said Boutilier was quite upset and disclosed to police that her son had autoimmune liver disease and may have had four pounds of pot on him when he disappeared.

The sergeant asked a phone company to ping Samson’s phone to determine its location, only to learn it was either out of range or turned off. The company then revealed the last phone number Samson had called, Aug. 15 at 10:22 p.m.

Det. Const. Todd Blake of the Internet child exploitation unit said he was brought in to assist in the missing-person case. He described how he tracked down the IP address that the phone number was linked to.

Blake also obtained a warrant to search Samson’s South Street apartment on suspicion of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

He said the search turned up 185 grams of marijuana, more than $6,300 in cash, four cellphones, digital scales and a passport.

Blake said he saw no mention of a prescription bottle for Samson.

Det. Const. Randy Wood and Sgt. Bobby Clyke testified that they were tasked to go to the group home on Cavalier Drive in Lower Sackville on the night of Aug. 17. They arrived at the home just before midnight and spoke with two female employees who were on duty.

Clyke said the computer at the group home could be accessed by staff. Wood noted that the home’s Wi-Fi was not password-protected and he was able to use it outside in the driveway.

The trial will resume Monday. Justice Josh Arnold is the presiding judge.