Murder trial postponed on eve of jury selection after accused fires his lawyer

·3 min read
Tyrell Dechamp said he couldn't work with his lawyer, so the judge delayed his murder trial.  (CBC - image credit)
Tyrell Dechamp said he couldn't work with his lawyer, so the judge delayed his murder trial. (CBC - image credit)

The family of Naricho Clayton has been waiting six years for answers in his death. Now, they'll have to wait a lot longer.

The man accused of killing Clayton in April 2016, Tyrell Peter Dechamp, was supposed to be on trial now on a charge of first-degree murder. But just days before jury selection was to begin, Dechamp parted company with his lawyer, Eugene Tan.

"I'm not comfortable with my lawyer and I'd like to seek new counsel," Dechamp told Justice Jamie Campbell in a special, pre-trial hearing on Aug. 29.

"I feel terrible for doing that, I really do," Dechamp said by video link. "But there's nothing I can do about that."

Tan said he has had difficulty getting documents to Dechamp and he said that was a source of friction between himself and his client.

Tan suggested they proceed with jury selection on the scheduled date, then adjourn proceedings for a few days so he could meet with Dechamp.

"I'd like to get a chance to repair this relationship now," Tan told the court.

'Awkward position'

But Dechamp made it clear he wasn't interested in sticking with Tan.

"I'm in the awkward position of having a person who's saying I do not want to do that, I do not want this lawyer as my lawyer. Saying it a few days before the trial is supposed to commence makes it particularly awkward," Justice Campbell said.

"But I think counsel will recognize that the prospect of having Mr. Dechamp as a self-represented litigant in a murder trial that's scheduled for two-and-a-half months is not a positive one."

Crown prosecutor Kim McOnie objected to the adjournment.

"From the Crown's point of view, while we're not saying he's not entitled to have a lawyer represent him, but the Crown would submit that this is a situation of Mr. Dechamp's own making," McOnie said.

"Mr. Tan is trying his best to salvage this relationship, to move it forward and it is Mr. Dechamp who is choosing to be disruptive in these circumstances."

McOnie said there were proposals on the table that would have reduced the trial from two-and-a-half months to just six weeks, but Dechamp rejected all of them.

Judge delays case 

McOnie said while the Covid-19 pandemic has been responsible for some of the delay in bringing this case to trial, Dechamp himself has been responsible for a lot of it.

The trial was to go ahead in one of the specially-built courtrooms in Dartmouth which were set up to accommodate jury trials in the midst of the pandemic. They allow for social distancing for jurors, witnesses and counsel.

In the end, Justice Campbell agreed to postpone the trial. The case will return to court later this month to see whether Dechamp has been able to find a new lawyer. Then the challenge will be to find time to conduct the lengthy jury trial.

At the time of Clayton's death, Dechamp was on a statutory release from prison.

He had been convicted of murder in 2009 for the Oct. 15, 2007, stabbing death of Matthew James Ayre.

Police issued a Canada-wide warrant for him on April 20, 2016 — the day after Clayton's death — after Dechamp failed to return to his Halifax halfway house the night before.

Halifax had an especially violent year in 2016 with 12 murders; most of the victims were young Black men, including Clayton.