Nova Scotian facing murder charge tried to bribe his way out of Venezuela jail: documents

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Security high as former fugitive Steven Skinner in court on murder charge

A Venezuelan court ruling that surrenders a Nova Scotia fugitive to Canadian authorities reveals new details about Steven Douglas Skinner's elaborate international five-year run from justice while wanted for a fatal shooting at close range.

The extradition decision also describes how Skinner has allegedly tried to bribe his way out of a Venezuelan prison where authorities say he was trafficking drugs while behind bars.

The 43-year-old MMA fighter has been in Venezuelan custody since he was handcuffed on a beach in El Yaque, Margarita Island, off the country's northeastern coast last May.

He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Dartmouth man, Stacey Adams, 20, in April 2011. Two days after the homicide, Skinner was already out of Canada heading to Latin America.

'Timelines for surrender'

On October 24, 2016, a Venezuelan court granted the extradition of Skinner to Canada. Five months later, however, it's not clear when he will be returned to this country.

Canadian Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod said the order is still in effect. There are "ongoing discussions" with Venezuela regarding Skinner's return, he said, and "timelines for surrender are determined by the processes in the country in question."

Robert Currie, an international criminal law professor at Dalhousie University, said the case shows how time-consuming the extradition process is, and how Canada is "at the mercy" of another country's justice processes.

"It's well-known that Venezuela is in a state of political disarray and upheaval right now, and no doubt that is contributing to their justice system not operating as quickly and as efficiently as it could," he said.

Questions to the Venezuelan embassy in Ottawa have not been answered.

Homicide details

Details of the Adams homicide, supplied by Canadian police officials, are outlined in the Venezuelan extradition ruling. 

In what's described as a "synopsis of homicide," in the document Skinner is named a member of an illegal drug organization that police dubbed the Belanger Group. Police say it was headed by Ryan Belanger, the owner of the house where Adams was killed, and allege the group trafficked drugs in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia, according to the ruling.

The group allegedly imported cocaine from Mexico, according to the ruling, and Skinner's contacts included associates of the Hells Angels.

Halifax police have said Adams was involved in drug trafficking, although that is disputed by his mother.

The ruling says Belanger and Adams "disagreed and disgusted each other," while "Skinner supported R. Belanger in the dispute."

On April 10, 2011, when Adams showed up at Belanger's Lake Echo, N.S., house to buy marijuana, gunfire rang out. It's alleged Skinner shot him three times, at least once at close range, with a .44-calibre revolver. 

Adams's body was left in a vehicle at the scene.

At the time, Skinner was on bail and facing charges from July 2009 when a Lower Sackville man was burned with hot spoons and knives — an apparent settling of scores with the victim's son.

Moncton to Mexico

On the day of the murder, Skinner flew from Moncton to Vancouver, and two days later he was on his way to Mazatlan, Mexico, via Calgary, according to the ruling.

In July 2011, while Skinner was on the lam, a second-degree murder charge was laid against him.

Then in April 2012, mysterious pictures surfaced. While Mexican police investigated the death of alleged B.C. crime figure Thomas Gisby, a search of a residence uncovered photos that showed Skinner dead, according to the ruling.

RCMP, however, determined he was not dead but had been living in Mexico under the name Steve Shannon. Steve Shannon is one of at least four aliases Skinner had been using while on the run.

Using a fake Mexican passport issued in the name of Shane Martinez, Skinner travelled from Mexico to Panama in May 2012. But he didn't stay there long. 

The extradition decision says Skinner was arrested by Colombian immigration police (it doesn't say why) at the Medellin airport in March 2013. He was using the fake Mexican passport, and was fingerprinted and released before his true identity was confirmed.

It's believed Skinner had been living in Venezuela since February 2015. There, he'd been using the names Paul Segura Fitzgerald and Shane Sampson Martinez.

When the long arm of the law finally caught up with him at a popular Venezuelan beach, days after his 43rd birthday, he called himself James Alexander O'Neill Pirela.

Venezuela's top cop showed off the trophy catch on social media: Skinner, heavily tattooed and muscular, hands behind his back and covered in sand.

Bribing prison guards

Skinner was on Interpol's most-wanted list — considered an armed, dangerous and violent drug user. His occupation was listed as owner of a tanning centre.

Since his capture on the Venezuelan beach, he's been custody for 10 months. Even while behind bars, RCMP say he's still conniving, according to the extradition ruling.

"Skinner is looking for ways to escape from prison trying to bribe guards and is actively involved in drug trafficking from the place of detention," it says.

The only person that's been brought before Canadian courts in the Adams homicide is Brittany Derbyshire. She was accused of being an an accessory to murder by driving Skinner to Moncton, where it's alleged he threw the gun and Adams's chain into the Petitcodiac River.

She was acquitted at trial after evidence, gathered during a Mr. Big operation, was excluded by a judge. The court of appeal upheld the decision, but the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service is seeking to challenge the acquittal at the Supreme Court of Canada.