VICTORIA — A homeless heroin addict who violently killed Nanaimo drug dealer Richard Sitar in September 2017 has been convicted of manslaughter.
On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robin Baird found John Albert Buchanan not guilty of second-degree murder, but guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter after experiencing “one torment too many” from his victim.
The murder was committed on the spur of the moment in response to a sudden and unexpected provocation before Buchanan’s passions had time to cool, said Baird.
“You reacted inappropriately and disproportionately, but understandably, to a sufficiently wrongful act or insult from Mr. Sitar.”
Evidence at trial revealed that Sitar was a drug dealer, prolific thief and property fencer. He lived with his wife, Amanda, and ran a brisk trade in narcotics and stolen property out of their apartment on Nicol Street. Buchanan was a heroin and methamphetamine addict, living rough in a makeshift shanty in a backyard near Sitar’s apartment building.
Buchanan had a dysfunctional and morbidly dependent relationship with Sitar, Baird said. Buchanan bought his drugs primarily from Sitar and supplied him with stolen property for cash or to barter for drugs. He was in and out of Sitar’s apartment on a regular basis. Sometimes they got along, but sometimes things between them became fractious and violent, Baird said, in a review of trial evidence.
“I find that Mr. Sitar was the alpha dog. He always had the upper hand. The accused was his servant or client and he was invariably on the receiving end of physical and verbal abuse from Mr. Sitar,” said Baird.
A few weeks before his death, Sitar attacked Buchanan with pepper spray in the parking lot of the neighbourhood McDonald’s.
“The assault appeared to be nasty, gratuitous, excessive and completely unprovoked,” said Baird.
Court heard that Sitar was selfish and vindictive. He played satanic heavy-metal music at ear-splitting volumes, let people into the building at all hours and propped open the emergency exits to let his customers in. On the day he died, Sitar appeared to be jumpy.
Video evidence gathered by police allowed Baird to conclude that Buchanan had an “exclusive opportunity” to kill Sitar. Footage showed Sitar returning to his apartment alone at 6:10 p.m. that day. At 6:19 p.m., Buchanan arrived. He was let into Sitar’s apartment three minutes later.
At 6:39 p.m., Sitar’s wife Amanda arrived at the apartment but found the door locked. After waiting for a few minutes, she left. Then at 6:46 p.m. Buchanan is seen leaving Sitar’s apartment, carrying bags.
At 7:06 p.m., Amanda returned and found the door unlocked. She walked in and found Sitar mortally wounded, covered in blood, sitting on the living room couch. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Buchanan was arrested two days later and remained in custody until November 2019.
In his decision, Baird accepted and relied on the evidence of an inmate who testified that Buchanan had confessed to the killing. Buchanan told the inmate, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, that on the day of the killing he gave Sitar $80 for heroin and meth. When he returned later, he found Sitar had used the drugs. They started arguing about the absent drugs and the money. Then Sitar told Buchanan he wanted him to re-steal a motorbike that had already been returned to its owners by police or he would shoot his girlfriend. Sitar was brandishing a gun as he said this, the inmate testified.
Sitar was in and out of consciousness, high on drugs, the inmate recounted. Buchanan went to the front door, locked it, grabbed a baseball bat and hit Sitar on the head with it.
“He thought Mr. Sitar was probably dead after the first blow, but he kept going to make sure. He didn’t want Mr. Sitar to come back and kill him,” said Baird.
The autopsy revealed that Sitar had toxic levels of fentanyl, metham and methadone that may have been lethal. But cause of death was blunt-force trauma caused by multiple blows to his head. Death would have occurred very rapidly, a pathologist testified.
Although the Crown proved all the elements of second-degree murder, Baird questioned whether the verdict should be reduced to manslaughter. Buchanan didn’t go to the apartment intending to kill Sitar.
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