POLITICS

Judge finds man not guilty in Alberta Mountie shootings; didn't buy Crown theory

05/01/2015 01:43 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT
WETASKIWIN, Alta. - A judge has found a man accused of shooting two RCMP officers in rural Alberta not guilty of all charges.

"It's been tough," said Sawyer Robison, who was cleared of two counts of attempted murder, assault and several weapons charges Friday in the February 2012 shooting.

"I've been confident the truth would eventually come out."

The courtroom, full of about two dozen of Robison's supporters, broke into applause after Justice Eric Macklin read his verdict. Several wiped tears from their eyes.

Constables Sheldon Shah and Sidney Gaudette were wounded while trying to search a farmhouse near Killam, southeast of Edmonton, for weapons relation to a domestic violence complaint.

Shah testified during the trial that he jumped between his partner and a gun pointing out of a doorway, and took numerous bullets along his left side. Gaudette was shot once in the torso.

Following a standoff, Robison's uncle, Bradford Clarke, 53, was found dead in the kitchen. Evidence photos show he had a head wound and two handguns next to his body.

Robison, 30, who fled in a pickup truck following the shooting, was arrested three days later on a rural road after his parents pleaded for him to turn himself in.

No forensic evidence or eyewitness accounts ever linked Robison to one of the two handguns fired at the officers.

The Crown argued that the pattern of bullet holes in the home, given the positions of the four men involved, necessarily led to the conclusion that two shooters fired on police.

Prosecutor Rod Clark pointed out that several of the bullets fired by one gun found their mark, while those from the other gun were wide misses. He noted Clarke was a skilled marksman and equally accurate with both hands.

He asked how could a supposedly ambidextrous gunman shoot so well with one hand and so poorly form the other.

But Robison's defence maintained both guns were fired by Clarke.

In the end, Macklin concluded that the Crown hadn't eliminated all other possibilities.

"I am simply not satisfied that the inference the Crown has asked me to draw is the only one that can be drawn," he said.

"I cannot find that (Robison) was a party to the offence."

Macklin also cleared police of any wrong-doing. Although the defence had suggested police entered the house with unnecessary force, Macklin said they were justified in their actions, given they knew there were weapons present.

Clark acknowledged that with no direct evidence, the case had been a tough one to prosecute.

"No trial has any guarantees. It was definitely up there in the difficult category."

Defence lawyer Brian Beresh welcomed the verdict.

"It's a pretty emotional time," he said.

"After all the years that have gone by, to hear those words, we're pretty impressed. Finally, justice has been done in what was a very tragic case."

Robison faces several remaining weapons charges. Those come before court May 12.