TORONTO - A man accused in the grisly stabbing death of a Toronto hotel worker nearly three years ago was found guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday, although the motive for his crime remained shrouded in mystery.
Adonay Zekarias had pleaded not guilty in the death of 55-year-old Nighisti Semret.
Semret was walking home after an overnight shift at a busy downtown hotel on a rainy morning in October 2012 when she was attacked in a laneway by a man who stabbed her seven times, court heard.
The mother of three fought for her life — the blood of her attacker was found under her fingernails — but she died of her wounds in hospital less than an hour after the stabbing.
Crown prosecutors had alleged her slaying was a "planned and deliberate murder," with all evidence in the case pointing to Zekarias as the killer.
Jurors who heard the nearly five-week trial took just about four hours to reach their guilty verdict.
"Justice was served today," Crown prosecutor Mary Humphrey said outside court after the verdict was delivered. "It's a good day for public safety."
Zekarias's defence lawyer noted, however, that the court had never heard why Zekarias might have killed Semret, and said her client maintained that he is not guilty.
"My client and his family are very, very disappointed in the verdict," said Susan Adams. "There was no motive. There never has been a suggestion of a motive. That has been a huge gap in the Crown's case."
Zekarias faces an automatic sentence of life in prison. One of Semret's children is to deliver a victim impact statement in the case on Friday before a judge decides on Zekarias's parole eligibility terms.
Despite being unable to provide a motive for Semret's killing, Crown prosecutors made it clear they thought they had a strong case against Zekarias.
Semret and Zekarias knew each other, they told the court. Both were refugees from the North African country of Eritrea, had once lived in the same refugee shelter, and went to English lessons together for a time.
Immigration records also showed they were members of the same church in Eritrea, court heard.
On the day Semret died, jurors heard that she was unaware she was being followed by a man who suddenly attacked her with a large kitchen-style knife.
In the struggle that ensued, court heard that the man was hurt "very badly."
A neighbour heard Semret's screams on that rainy morning, ran to her aid and used his umbrella to fend off her attacker, who then ran away, jurors heard.
David Hughes, who testified at the trial, recalled his confrontation with Semret's attacker, and told the court of Semret's horrific wounds.
She was stabbed repeatedly in her back, her chest, her thigh and her arm, court heard.
Zekarias, the Crown said, later called 911 for medical assistance for his own "severe hand injuries'' later that day, telling paramedics he had got his hands caught in a door — an explanation they had trouble believing.
Zekarias was arrested in September 2013.