Convicted Nova Scotia murderer's stash of bitcoin at centre of wrongful death lawsuit

HALIFAX — A legal battle is brewing in Nova Scotia over access to bitcoin owned by an ex-medical student recently convicted of fatally shooting a fellow student during a drug deal.

The lawyer who represents the victim's family says the cryptocurrency could be worth more than $200,000 — money that could be awarded to them if they win a wrongful death civil lawsuit.

Last Saturday, a jury declared William Sandeson guilty of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of Taylor Samson, a 22-year-old physics student at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Sandeson admitted to disposing of the victim's body in the Bay of Fundy. Samson's remains have yet to be found.

Before his six-week trial began in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Sandeson applied to the court to have his Dell laptop returned to him while he was in custody. In October 2022, Sandeson told the court his bitcoin account was worth between $8,000 and $10,000, but he said it had appreciated in value during his seven years in custody.

At the time of that court hearing, Sandeson said he needed the money to pay his legal team. He said he required physical possession of the computer to access the funds, adding that "if the laptop is inoperable, the money is lost forever.”

Sandeson will be sentenced in April.

James Goodwin, a lawyer who represents Samson's family, says the court approved Sandeson's request for the laptop. Goodwin, however, was granted an interim injunction blocking the move in December 2022. The court will revisit the issue in May.

Earlier this month, Samson's mother, Linda Boutilier, and her other son, Connor Samson, filed an amended statement of claim for a wrongful death lawsuit against Sandeson.

Goodwin said his clients are claiming special and general damages, and he said they want to make sure Sandeson's cryptocurrency remains available to the court if they win their civil case.

"The family is entitled to damages," Goodwin said in an interview from his office in Amherst, N.S. "It's pretty rare for someone who commits homicide to have any assets at all."

Goodwin said he was confident the court will keep the injunction in place, denying Sandeson access to the disputed account.

"Part of the test to get the … injunction was to show evidence that this person isn't trustworthy," Goodwin said. "He's admitting to (killing) somebody. He's changed his story repeatedly. There's a lot of evidence here of a character the court shouldn't trust."

Police seized the laptop at Sandeson's Henry Street apartment, which is where Samson was last seen alive. But the machine was never entered as an exhibit for Sandeson's trial.

The Crown argued it was reluctant to return the laptop until court proceedings ended because it contains text messages, internet searches, and information on websites that were accessed up to and including Aug. 15, 2015 — the day Samson was murdered.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2023.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press