Dillon Whitehawk guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in 2019 Regina shooting deaths

·5 min read
Dillon 'Ricky' Whitehawk is brought into the Delta Hotel in Regina on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. On Saturday, he was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2019 killings of  Jordan Denton, 27, and Keenan Toto, 23.  (CBC - image credit)
Dillon 'Ricky' Whitehawk is brought into the Delta Hotel in Regina on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. On Saturday, he was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2019 killings of Jordan Denton, 27, and Keenan Toto, 23. (CBC - image credit)

A Regina jury has returned a guilty verdict on two charges of first-degree murder against Dillon Whitehawk, following his three-week-long trial for the 2019 killings of two men.

The jury delivered its verdicts at Court of Queen's Bench in Regina on Saturday morning, after deliberating for eight-and-a-half hours.

Jury deliberations are secret, so the reason for their decision will not be known.

Whitehawk, 27, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Jordan Denton and Keenan Toto in Regina.

Denton, 27, was shot on Nov. 9, 2019, in a drive-by shooting. Toto, 23, was killed in a separate drive-by shooting on Dec. 1, 2019.

A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Court was adjourned on Saturday until May 13. A date for sentencing has not yet been set.

Crown attorneys David Belanger and Adam Breker said they welcomed the jury's decision, and said it was the only reasonable conclusion given the evidence presented.

"We are happy for the families of both Keenan Toto and Jordan Denton — to bring some closure to them," Belanger said after Saturday's verdict was delivered.

The attorneys said sentencing for Whitehawk would likely wait until the Supreme Court of Canada makes a ruling in a case that concerns parole eligibility in cases of multiple first-degree murders.

Defence attorney Thomas Hynes said Saturday that Whitehawk was taking the verdict as well as could be expected.

"He's disappointed.… I don't think he's surprised," said Hynes.

The content of the trial posed a particular challenge for the defence, he said.

"This case has been all about street gangs."

The defence team is weighing their options for appeal, including a possible appeal on whether jurors were properly screened for bias, he said.

If there is an appeal, it won't be made until after Whitehawk is sentenced.

Unanimous decision

Whitehawk's trial for the murders started on April 4, and jurors began deliberating Friday morning, after Justice Neil Robertson delivered his final instructions to them.

Robertson told the jury that their verdicts had to be decided separately.

"A verdict, whether guilty or not guilty, is the unanimous decision of the jury," he said in his charge to the jury, which took just under three hours.

The Crown had argued that the jury must reach a guilty verdict if they believed Whitehawk killed the two men as a part of a deliberate plan.

A guilty verdict was also necessary if they determined he was under the direction of a criminal organization, if the killings were done in association with a criminal organization, or if they were done for the benefit of a criminal organization, the Crown told jurors.

During the trial, the court heard that Whitehawk was a member of a local street gang known as the Indian Mafia, or IM.

Wanted to climb ranks in gang: Crown

The trial focused heavily on Regina street gangs and a period of open hostility between rival gangs at the end of 2019.

Crown attorneys alleged that the two shootings were driven by Whitehawk's desire to climb the ranks of the Indian Mafia.

Whitehawk was a crew boss in the gang. One of the ways to advance through the ranks was to commit violence against rival gang members.

Crown attorneys alleged that Whitehawk killed Toto and Denton because he thought they were members of a gang.

Whitehawk did not have a prior relationship with either victim and is alleged to have shot them based on the colour of the clothing they were wearing at the time.

Jurors heard testimony from Crown witnesses that Whitehawk was promoted up the ranks of the IM as a result of the shootings.

Multiple corroborating stories from witnesses pointed to Whitehawk as the shooter in both incidents, the Crown argued.

A publication ban prohibits CBC News from identifying some of the Crown witnesses who testified.

Some of the witnesses identified themselves as members of the Indian Mafia and said they were in the vehicle during at least one of the drive-by shootings.

Unreliable witnesses: defence

However, defence attorneys urged the jury to ignore the testimony of those witnesses, whom the defence described as unreliable and not credible.

Hynes also said the jury should put less weight on the testimony from Crown witnesses who were testifying for their own benefit.

Hynes argued that the Crown presented no definitive evidence that Whitehawk was the person who pulled the trigger in both shootings and said that alone should be enough to leave reasonable doubt about his guilt.

He put forward other possible theories for the jury to consider, including that Whitehawk is a "bizarre fall guy" for other gang members who could have fired the shots that killed Toto or Denton.

The jury had been told by witnesses that the guns allegedly used in the crimes — one of which was purchased by Whitehawk's brother — were known to have been used by IM members.

They were not the exclusive property of Whitehawk, the jury was told.

The trial was held at the Delta Hotel in order to allow for physical distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitehawk is facing another first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of Keesha Cree Alexandra Bitternose.

That jury trial is scheduled to proceed in September.

While the charge in Bitternose's death is being tried separately, Crown attorneys said that they chose to try the two counts in Denton and Toto's killings together because of overlap with witnesses and similar evidence in those cases.

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