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Accused adults to stand trial

Youth take stand at adults' preliminary inquiry

ENOUGH EVIDENCE. Danny Rao (left) and Ryan Cran will stand trial for manslaughter in the case of Aaron Webster. Lawyers will set a date for the trial May 19. Credit: Wendy D

The two adults accused of beating Aaron Webster to death in November 2001 were back in court last week for a preliminary inquiry into their case. (Preliminary inquiries are standard procedure in most serious criminal cases. Judges hold the inquiries to determine if the Crown has enough evidence against the accused to hold a trial.)



In this case, Judge Conni Bagnall ruled after just three days of testimony that the Crown had presented enough evidence against Danny Rao and Ryan Cran to warrant a trial. Rao and Cran have both been charged with manslaughter in connection with Webster’s killing. Their lawyers will set a trial date on May 19.



Xtra West cannot report any of the evidence presented during the three-day preliminary inquiry because of a standard publication ban on the hearing.



But it can report that, throughout most of the hearing, Rao and Cran stared straight ahead as witnesses took the stand.



Cran looked down briefly when the first youth arrested in the case walked by him. That youth (who cannot be identified because he was 17 at the time of the offence) pleaded guilty to manslaughter last July and was sentenced to two years in a youth detention facility plus a year of house arrest last December. A sheriff removed the youth’s handcuffs when he entered the courtroom and replaced them again when he left at the end of the day.



Rao remained impassive as both the first youth in the case and the second youth later took the stand. The second youth (who also can’t be identified because he was a minor at the time of the offence) pleaded guilty to manslaughter in January. He, too, was sentenced to two years in custody and a year of house arrest last week-just two days after he took the stand in the adults’ preliminary enquiry.



Throughout the inquiry, Cran’s parents and Rao’s mother sat quietly in the courtroom. The first youth’s father sat tensely through his son’s testimony, while the second youth’s very pregnant girlfriend frequently fidgetted during the hours the second youth spent on the stand. Rao’s girlfriend joined the Crans and Rao’s mother on the last day of testimony.



Webster’s cousin and sister also made a brief appearance on day three of the inquiry. No members of the gay community attended.



Outside the courtroom, the second youth kept his distance from Rao and Cran, sitting at the opposite end of the hallway. But at one point, the accused men walked within just inches of the seated youth, narrowly avoiding stepping on his toes. Rao smirked at the youth as he walked by. Cran followed about 10 seconds later, also stepping within inches of the youth’s toes and uttering something indecipherable as he walked by with a grin.



Both Rao and Cran will remain free on bail until their trial begins. Judge Bagnall slightly amended Cran’s bail conditions to give him a bit more flexibility to pick up materials for his employer. Cran works for a florist in the Lower Mainland. According to his original bail conditions, he was only allowed to leave his South Burnaby home to go to work; now he can leave his house one hour early to pick up supplies for work.



Rao and Cran’s manslaughter trial will likely be scheduled for some time next year. They elected to be tried by judge alone.