When Ryan Cran was convicted for the 2001 manslaughter of Aaron Webster and sentenced to six years in jail, he apologized for his actions in BC Supreme Court.
Last week, Cran appealed his conviction, an act which infuriated Webster’s relatives.
“If he was truly sorry, he’d take his punishment like a man. How can we get on with our lives when these kinds of things happen?” asks Denise Norman, wife of Webster’s cousin Fred. “We’re pretty frustrated that he’s even allowed to appeal because he made a statement that he was sorry at his sentencing.”
Defence and Crown lawyers argued the appeal before the BC Court of Appeal Sep 21. The justices reserved their decision.
Cran was one of four people charged with killing the 41-year-old gay photographer at the entrance to Stanley Park’s gay cruising trails almost five years ago. Two youths pleaded guilty and were sentenced to three years each, while a fourth accused, Danny Rao, was acquitted for lack of reliable evidence against him.
Witnesses at Cran and Rao’s 2004 trial in BC Supreme Court told Justice Mary Humphries the group had gone to the park to beat up “peeping toms and voyeurs” and came across Webster naked except for his shoes.
They chased him through the parking lot, hitting him as they ran, cornered him at his car, struck him with bats and other weapons until he fell to the ground, then continued beating him.
Cran drove the car, brought the weapons, took a weapon for himself, then helped chase and corner Webster, the court heard.
The court also heard that Cran later confessed his active participation in the incident to a friend at a pool hall, telling him, “Lance, we lynched a guy. We beat this guy up.”
Another witness, John Morgado, told the court that Cran confessed to him, too.
Morgado testified that Cran told him about the night he and his friends went to Stanley Park, found a guy naked and started beating him. When Morgado asked Cran directly if he killed Webster, Cran allegedly replied, “Yeah, it was us.”
“I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Cran was telling Morgado the truth when he stated that he had participated in the beating of the naked man at Stanley Park, and that he told [Lance] Rudek the truth when he said they had ‘lynched a guy,'” Humphries ruled Dec 10, 2004 as she convicted Cran.
Both Morgado and Rudek were “reliable and credible witnesses,” she continued. Their testimony corroborates the youths’ evidence and confirms “Cran’s intention to participate in the beating and his actual participation.”
Cran also drove the group to Stanley Park and had the weapons in his car, the judge noted.
“On a consideration of all the evidence, I am satisfied that the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ryan Cran was present at the scene of the beating and participated in it as a principal,” Humphries ruled. “I find Ryan Cran guilty of the manslaughter of Aaron Webster.”
To be found guilty of manslaughter, one must have actively participated in the killing, or explicitly encouraged or aided others in its commission.
“What is so chilling about this case is that this group seems to have done this for some reprehensible and almost inconceivable concept of entertainment,” Humphries added two months later as she sentenced Cran to six years in prison.
She called the attack random, cowardly and terrifying. “He must pay for this crime,” she said.
Now Cran’s lawyer says Humphries was wrong to convict his client.
Kris Pechet told three BC Court of Appeal justices that Humphries convicted Cran solely on statements he made to others, and on “one or two particular statements from particular people.”
Among the statements Pechet attacked was the one Cran made to Rudek at the pool hall saying, “we lynched a guy, we beat this guy up.”
Pechet told the justices that such a statement does not necessarily mean the speaker was involved in a beating.
One justice said he found Pechet’s suggestion unbelievable.
Crown counsel Alexander Budlovsky said he found Cran’s choice of words entirely appropriate, given what happened to Webster. “He was being lynched, he was being beaten up,” Budlovsky said.
Humphries made “a couple of errors in analysis,” Pechet maintained.
Generally speaking, lawyers can only appeal verdicts if they think the judge made a mistake in the law; it’s not enough to simply disagree with the judge’s ruling. Once a lawyer files an appeal, it’s up to the Court of Appeal to determine whether the judge made an error applying some portion of the law. If the court thinks a substantive error was made, it can quash the original ruling and order a new trial.
Pechet also took issue with testimony Humphries heard about Cran asking his friends to say nothing if anyone asked them about any pool cues.
This, Pechet said, was part of Cran’s misplaced loyalty to his friends who were involved in the death-not evidence of his own guilt. “He didn’t want his friends to be discovered.”
Budlovsky told the court he couldn’t accept that.
“There is not a whit of evidence to show that Mr Cran was protecting his friends,” he said. “A pool cue was found at the scene. What a remarkable coincidence.”
Pechet did not dispute Cran’s presence at the scene. In fact, he even reiterated testimony saying Cran had hit Webster as they chased him but disappeared into the bushes before the death blow was struck.
Pechet wants his client’s conviction thrown out but has said if his appeal is denied, he will ask for a lighter sentence.
Cran was not in court for the appeal.