TORONTO — Four men accused of arranging a brazen daytime killing at a crowded Toronto cafe as part of a feud among drug traffickers were found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday.
The convictions of Nicola Nero, Martino Caputo, Rabih Alkhalil and Dean Wiwchar carry automatic life sentences without parole eligibility for 25 years. The men were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
The four had been on trial for the death of John Raposo, who was shot on the patio of the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe on the afternoon of June 18, 2012, as soccer fans gathered to watch a Euro Cup game.
The men showed little emotion as their verdicts were announced in a packed courtroom. Jury members deliberated for two days before making their decision.
Raposo's family thanked the judge, the jury and the prosecutors involved in the case but said they were still mourning their loss.
"Our hearts are broken. Justice cannot bring back the missing link in our family," Raposo's cousin, Helen Pacheco said outside court. "We ask everyone to remember John not how he died but how he lived."
Prosecutors accused Wiwchar of actually carrying out the killing of Raposo. They said the men on trial orchestrated the hit on their rival partly because they believed Raposo had ratted Nero out to authorities.
Nero, Caputo and Alkhalil plotted to steal a 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Raposo, split the money between them, and have him assassinated, court was told.
The Crown relied partly on encrypted messages it said were exchanged by the men in the months leading up to the shooting.
In at least one message, Nero called Raposo a "rat" who deserved to die for the harm he had caused, court heard. Another message had Wiwchar calling himself a contract killer who warranted a $100,000 fee.
But one of the defence lawyers said any talk of revenge in those messages was pure "macho trash talk" and should not be considered proof of a murder plot.
Alan Gold, who represents Nero, told the court the group considered stealing the drugs from Raposo to be retribution enough.
Prosecutors alleged Wiwchar travelled from Vancouver for the job, and donned an elaborate disguise in an effort to evade authorities.
Witnesses described the killer as wearing a shoulder-length wig, sunglasses, a dust mask, an orange construction vest with a reflective X on it and a hardhat, court heard.
The Crown said a hardhat, construction vest and skin-coloured face masks were among the items found in Wiwchar’s Vancouver home, while searches on his home in Surrey, B.C. netted a cache of firearms as well as wigs, liquid latex skin, theatrical makeup, fake moustaches and beards and other items.
Other searches uncovered more than $60,000 in cash, the prosecution said.
Wiwchar was arrested three days after Raposo's death. Nero, who was arrested in a drug investigation roughly a month before the killing, was charged while behind bars in early 2013, around the same time that Caputo was arrested in Germany. Alkhalil was arrested in Greece the following year.
The four men are to be sentenced on the conspiracy count at a still-to-be determined date but their lawyers will return May 23 possibly to make arguments about how long it took to get to trial.