Brian Dickson was found guilty Monday after the jury deliberated for four hours. He showed no discernible reaction to the verdict nor to the automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
His victim's parents travelled from China for the trial. Qian Liu's father wiped tears from his eyes as the verdict was read.
"We are still very sad," Jian Hui Liu said after the verdict through a translator. His wife clutched a picture of their daughter and cried silently.
"The jury system in Canada is very good and very fair."
Liu, 23, had been chatting via webcam with her ex-boyfriend in China in the early morning hours of April 15, 2011, when he saw Dickson force his way into Liu's room and knock her down.
The ex-boyfriend, Xian Meng, testified that after the sound of two muffled bangs he said he heard no more sounds from Liu. Then he heard Dickson breathing heavily and moments later the man appeared naked in front of the webcam and turned off the computer, Meng testified.
The York University student was found dead mostly naked and face down on the floor of her off-campus basement apartment. Semen matched to a high probability to Dickson was on her thigh and groin.
One forensic pathologist concluded Liu's cause of death was unascertained, though mechanical asphyxiation — including neck compression — was the best overall explanation. A second forensic pathologist definitively concluded it was mechanical asphyxiation.
Dickson's lawyer, Robert Nuttall, said his client accepted the verdict, but he will look to see if there are grounds for appeal.
"The case hung on the mechanism of death," Nuttall said. "The jury struggled with it, the jury made their decision and they made their decision of first-degree murder."
The verdict indicates the jury believed Dickson intentionally killed Liu in the course of a sexual assault.
But the 12 jurors did not know about evidence that was presented at Dickson's bail hearing in January 2012, but wasn't introduced at his trial.
WARNING: CONTENTS MAY DISTURB SOME READERS
Toronto Police Det.-Sgt. Frank Skubic testified at the bail hearing that the child exploitation section of the sex crimes unit searched Dickson's Internet presence and the "most concerning" activities were from a website for "nudist friends."
Police found 34 posts to a variety of message boards, including ones in which the poster advocated having sex with children, Skubic testified. He listed some excerpts.
"As for actual incest, I think it depends on the parents and the kids," the user Charmane Star wrote. "I do encourage it though, but only after they begin to develop."
If he has kids they will "definitely be exposed to porn and oral," the user wrote.
Charmane Star is a popular Asian porn star, Skubic testified, and the user indicated he wanted to chat with like-minded people and gave an email address of email@example.com. Officers looked up the email and the profile included a picture closely resembling Dickson, Skubic testified.
In response to the question "How old should a girl need to be to be in porn," the user wrote, "I'm thinking that they should change the age to twelve. They should also start recruiting out of schools."
"In general, once girls hit puberty they should be penetrated regularly," the user wrote in another post.
Crown attorney Christine Pirraglia characterized the online conversations as being of a "very disturbing nature."
Skubic also testified at the bail hearing that 103 pornographic DVDs were found in Dickson's room — 51 of which were Asian pornography, 27 involved teenage porn and the rest were "regular" porn, Skubic testified.
Dickson had no criminal record but had charges withdrawn three times in the past, two of which were alleged crimes against women, the bail hearing was told.
In 2006 a woman Dickson had met at a nightclub complained to police that she invited him back to her home to perform oral sex on her and Dickson penetrated her without her consent, Skubic said. The woman said she told Dickson to stop but he allegedly told her to shut up, Skubic said.
"Mr. Dickson was alleged to have continued for the next 20 minutes," Skubic said. "Once completed, Mr. Dickson lay beside the victim and said, among other things, he had never had a mock rape before."
The charge was withdrawn at the request of the Crown.
In 2008 a former girlfriend told police that she and Dickson were arguing near his parents' house about money he took from her, which he said he used to buy cocaine, Skubic said, citing a police report.
"Grabbed the victim by the arms, dragging her out of sight of the house," Skubic quoted the police report as saying. "He then put his hands around her throat and began to choke her. She told him to 'Go ahead and kill me. I want you to go to jail.' Mr. Dickson then released her throat and with two of his fingers jammed them into the centre of her throat."
The woman decided not to proceed with charges.
A shoplifting allegation from 2008 was also withdrawn, Skubic said.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Anne Molloy denied Dickson bail, citing, among other factors, his "unstable" lifestyle. Dickson attended York University on and off for 10 years, completing fewer than three full years. His employment history was unstable, he has a history of abuse as well as a history of anxiety and depression, Molloy noted.
Early in his university career he was apparently very integrated into the school community. Dickson testified at his bail hearing that he had been on York's varsity baseball team for one year, the education commissioner for the student union another year, the president and co-founder of a model NATO club, a delegate in the model UN club and a frosh leader.
Dickson described a "very good" relationship with his parents, who were offering to be his sureties and risk losing their house if he violated proposed bail conditions.
His mother, Diana Dickson, said she had been in the hospital earlier that year having surgery and that her son visited her every day.
"Brian's a love, very sweet," she testified at his bail hearing.
The two would also talk politics, though it could get heated, she said.
"Sometimes Brian might be tense about something, but usually within a few minutes he comes back and apologizes and says that he was inappropriate," Diana Dickson said.
She has a professional background in mental health and Dickson's father is a retired family service worker for the Children's Aid Society and a published children's author.
Molloy noted that Dickson's parents were "exceptional human beings," but she decided there was a "substantial likelihood" that Brian Dickson would commit further crimes and denied bail.