A new trial has been ordered for a man accused of killing a Japanese exchange student and hiding her body in a suitcase in Vancouver’s West End.
William Schneider had been found guilty of killing a Japanese exchange student, 30-year-old Natsumi Kogawa, and putting her body into a suitcase in September 2016. He was arrested in Vernon later that month.
Schneider pleaded guilty to the charge of interfering with Kogawa’s body, but appealed the murder conviction.
In a 2-1 split decision released Tuesday (Feb. 2), the B.C. Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Schneider on the basis of an overheard telephone conversation that was admitted as evidence in the original trial. The telephone call was overheard by Schneider’s brother who testified about a conversation he overheard.
According to court documents, the brother testified that Schneider borrowed his phone to call his wife in Japan. During the call, the brother said he overheard Schneider say “say to his wife, words to the effect of, ‘Have you heard the news in relation to Natsumi’s death?’ and ‘I did it’ or ‘I killed her.’”
In his reasons for ordering the new trial, Justice Richard Goepel said the original judge erred in admitting the phone conversation because the brother only heard one side of the 13-minute conversation, and acknowledged that he did not hear the entire length of it.
Goepel took issued with the words overheard by Schneider’s brother.
“I would respectfully suggest that the words ‘I did it’ said six minutes into a conversation with no surrounding context are not capable of being an admission. The words may or may not have had anything to do with Ms. Kogawa’s death,” the justice wrote.
Goepel acknowledged that the phrase “I killed her” is of a worse caliber, but noted that the brother may have missed context around those words as well.
“For example, the appellant could have been asked [by his wife], ‘Why didn’t you go to the police?” Answer: ‘[They would think] I killed her.’”
Goepel said that without having context around the words Schneider said during the phone call to his wife, and with relying on just one side of the conversation, it had not been possible for the original jury to properly gauge the importance of the phone call.
” In this case, there is no way of knowing what potentially was said before or after the overheard utterances. [The brother] was also unable to overhear the other half of the conversation. Lacking these key pieces of context, there is nothing that would allow a jury to determine the meaning of the utterances in a way that is not dangerously speculative,” Goepel wrote.
“I am of the view that no properly instructed jury could conclude that the overheard fragment was an admission. Accordingly, it is not relevant and should not have been put before the jury. It was an error to admit the evidence.”
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