A Surrey murder convict who has been unable to obtain Legal Aid funding to launch an appeal will have a court-appointed lawyer to argue his case, the British Columbia Court of Appeal has decided.
Russell Bidesi was found guilty of second-degree murder on Feb. 16, 2018 and sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility to apply for parole for 15 years. The victim, Bradley McPherson, 28, was shot dead at a Newton house party on Christmas Eve, 2011.
On May 25, 2018, Bidesi filed notice that he would appeal his conviction.
Justice John Hunter noted that at the time of his arrest Bidesi had a Grade 11 education but while in prison had received his Dogwood diploma. The court heard he has no income or assets and had applied to Legal Aid to pay for an appellate lawyer but was denied.
“It is not in the interests of justice to require an appellant who has been sentenced to life imprisonment on the strength of the testimony of a Vetrovec witness to present his own appeal without legal assistance,” Hunter decided.
“The application for appointment of counsel is granted.”
Regina versus Vetrovec was a 1982 case before the Supreme Court of Canada that led to what’s known as a “Vetrovec warning.” That’s when a judge cautions a jury about the reliability of evidence given by a certain Crown witness.
In Bidesi’s case, Hunter noted, a witness admitted she lied to the police during her statements, telling them she did not “physically see” the shooting. But she also gave evidence at trial she had been standing “face to face” with McPherson when he was shot.
McPherson was shot in the back of the head, while speaking on the phone, at an after-hours party attended by about 40 people. The only issue at trial, Hunter noted, was the shooter’s identity.
He decided the magnitude of the sentence “argues strongly in favour of legal assistance for this appellant.”
Hunter made his oral reasons for judgment on May 7, in Vancouver.