CanadaHe killed an innocent man over a gold chain. His Toronto jury didn’t hear he was part of another ‘chain rip’ six weeks later

17:21  10 may  2019
17:21  10 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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He killed an innocent man over a gold chain. His Toronto jury didn’t hear he was part of another ‘chain rip’ six weeks later © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Clifton Vassel, seen left in a police handout photo, shot Andrew Surage to death after stealing a necklace worn by his friend outside a west-end after hours club. Right is the gold chain the Crown says Vassel stole, seen in a selfie taken by Surage’s friend, Adrian John.

In her closing address to jurors this past week, prosecutor Liz Nadeau suggested some of them might have been surprised to learn “chain rips” are even a thing in Toronto.

She was referring to thieves grabbing jewelry — usually gold chains — from around the necks of strangers, something the man on trial for first-degree murder was accused of doing early Oct. 5, 2014, before fatally shooting Andrew Surage, a 47-year-old innocent husband and father who had tried to intervene in the robbery.

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After hearing only three days of evidence, the jury deliberated for less than a day before returning with a guilty verdict early Tuesday night. Clifton Vassel, 32, received an automatic sentence of life in prison.

What jurors didn’t know was that Vassel had amassed a lengthy criminal record with convictions for firearms, assault and threatening death and is already serving a life sentence — imposed last year — for five attempted murders and related weapons offences.

Nor was the jury aware that six weeks after killing Surage, Vassel was chain ripping — again — at gunpoint.

On Nov. 16, 2014, he and his accomplices accosted two strangers in the washroom area of the Garden Restaurant on Dundas St. West, near Bay St. The thugs helped themselves to the two gold chains worn around the neck of Dennis Green, an unarmed man out enjoying a peaceful evening.

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He 's going to live his own life and stop letting his mother boss him around like a baby. (Prichard) 9. They had never heard him speak with such urgency, his eyes glowing like amber coals in the fading light. (Prichard) 7. The first bar of gold raised hopes sky high.

When Green’s friend, Tariq Mohammed, tried to help, he got thumped by a gun. The pair escaped from the back of the Chinese restaurant but didn’t make it past the front counter. Two men fired bullets into Mohammed, killing the 31-year-old less than 90 seconds after the chain rip.

Vassel and three others were arrested for the murder but those charges were later dropped. Video surveillance cameras captured the chain rip, however, leaving Vassel with no choice but to plead guilty to the robbery. He received a 10-year sentence. Last summer, a jury acquitted a fourth man, Havard McKenzie, of Mohammed’s murder.

As in the Garden Restaurant case, Surage and his two friends, Adrian John and Kim Wintere, were out for a fun, trouble-free time. After attending a fundraiser, they ended their night at the Captain Social Club, an after-hours club in an industrial complex on Weston Rd. at Northland Ave. That’s when “a good night takes a wrong turn,” Nadeau said this week in her closing address to jurors.

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When he was dressed he went down the hall into the kitchen. About once a week , Uncle Vernon looked over the top of his newspaper and shouted that Harry needed a haircut. He was ripping the paper off a gold wristwatch when Aunt Petunia came back from the telephone looking both angry and

Although his lawyer (2) _ (to defend) him very well, he was still found guilty by the jury . I (17) ( hear ) him shouting again several times over the next twenty minutes. He called him an ignorant country doctor, and later he said something like “There’s nothing you can do!”

John was wearing his much-loved gold chain and cross, purchased separately on an instalment plan for a total of $1,200, from a Scarborough flea market.

The trio didn’t think much of the club’s “seedy” atmosphere and left — or they were trying to when Vassel approached, pushed and shoved John and tore off his jewelry, Nadeau said.

Surage tried to calm the situation down. He asked the thief to return John’s chain. Vassel refused. “You don’t know what you do ... I’m coming,” he warned, then headed straight to his car for his gun, Nadeau said. Before the three friends could bolt, Vassel returned and shot Surage in the chest before running away like a coward, she said.

Nadeau, joined at the prosecution table by Elizabeth Jackson, told the jury the evidence against Vassel was “overwhelming.”

“It’s a slam dunk,” Nadeau said.

Wintere had picked Vassel out of a photo lineup. Surveillance cameras recorded the getaway car — similar in many respects to Vassel’s 1998 Honda Accord seized by police — including a damaged side panel. The surveillance footage showed the escape vehicle hitting another car. A witness also put Vassel at the club. She testified she found him attractive and sent him text messages, arranging a hookup later. His cellphone received her text at a tower across the street.

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The prosecutors had another key piece of evidence. Vassel’s cellphone contained a photograph of a chain with the same “distinctive” links and cross stolen from John. Jurors were shown comparison photos.

Defence lawyer Joseph Neuberger rejected the Crown’s claim the case was a slam dunk.

He told the jury Vassel was indeed at the club that evening. But he wasn’t the shooter.

The photo identification wasn’t airtight, he argued during his closing remarks, because while Wintere picked Vassel out of the photo lineup, she told police “I might be wrong, but it’s the image I have in my mind.”

“She didn’t say it was him,” Neuberger said.

Neuberger, quoting playwright Oscar Wilde, said “the truth is rarely pure and never simple” and what was critical for the jury to note was the “absence of important evidence.”

There was no DNA, no murder weapon, and other than the victim’s friends, no other witnesses came forward. The scrapes on Vassel’s Honda weren’t surprising — it was an older car. As for the photograph on his client’s phone, where was evidence of damage to the remaining links if it had been torn from John’s neck?

Also, while the prosecution had emphasized the uniqueness of the chain and cross, Neuberger noted it was purchased at a flea market. “We’re not talking about the Faberge egg,” or items bought at a ritzy Bloor St. shop, he said, adding the jewelry could be mass produced.

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“The absence of evidence looms large,” the defence lawyer repeated several times. His client did not testify.

Jurors, obviously, did not agree.

After Vassel was convicted, Surage’s widow, Candis Surage, delivered a moving victim impact statement about the devastating effects of losing the father of her then-5-year-old son, which has forced her to cope as a single mother.

Surage, whom loved ones called McKenny, was “the life of the party” who had a big heart and warm smile, she told court.

“I will continue to remind my son that his dad died a hero by sacrificing his life for the protection of his friend,” she said.

“My heart will never be whole again and life may never be the same.”

She addressed the killer.

“I hope that justice is served today and that in your darkest hour you will come to the realization of the level of hurt you caused my family by taking away the life of a husband, a father, a brother, an uncle and most of all a man who meant so much to everyone.

He may have been a random victim to you, but to me he was my everything.”

Asked if he had anything to say before receiving another life sentence, Vassel declined, but directed some expletives at police and prosecutors after the judge and jury were gone.

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

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