Four years after Toronto gay man Chris Skinner was beaten, run over and left for dead on the corner of Adelaide and Victoria streets, Toronto police have arrested and charged one man and served notice that up to five more people may face charges related to the murder.
Agustin Caruso, a 23-year-old Etobicoke man, was arrested Nov 6 on his way to York University, where he attends school. He is alleged to have participated in the beating and to have been the driver of the SUV that ran Skinner over. He was 19 at the time.
Detective Sergeant Stacy Gallant says the police do not consider the murder a hate crime.
“There was nothing in the investigation that supported anything in relation to the knowledge that anyone in the vehicle knew Chris was gay. It still has no bearing on the investigation. Chris was just a guy walking home — nothing more, nothing less,” Gallant says.
Gallant also disputes the suggestion put forward by some people who knew Skinner that he was someone who would be easily recognizable as gay.
“His family would tell you different,” Gallant says. “It could’ve been anybody walking down the street and come in contact with these individuals.”
Skinner was walking home from his younger sister’s birthday party around 3am on Oct 19, 2009, when it is believed that he got into an altercation with Caruso and his friends when he brushed against Caruso’s car while hailing a cab. The men then beat Skinner to the ground and ran over him with the front and back tires of the SUV before taking off.
Police say that six people were in the car at the time of the murder, four men and two women. All could face charges when police confirm their identities. Police are urging the five remaining suspects to come forward.
“I have some idea who the others are involved, who was in the vehicle,” Gallant says. “I’m sure they are aware that I am pursuing them.”
Police warn that “at least two more” arrests are to come in the case.
“Potentially everyone in the vehicle could be charged, depending on their participation and if they assisted in any way, concealing any evidence or helping him get away with it for the past four years,” Gallant says.
Police were not willing to go into detail about how they tracked down Caruso or whether he has given them any more information.
In October, police announced that they had recovered more security camera footage related to the murder and had figured out the make, model and approximate year of the SUV in question. Gallant says that Caruso had sold the SUV and that it recently came into police possession.
Police had offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, and the family had offered $100,000 more, but no one came forward to claim the reward. Instead, Gallant says it was the police’s dogged pursuit of the investigation over four years that paid off. He says police received tips via Crimestoppers and interviewed “hundreds” of witnesses.
“The information that led to this arrest came from police work and interviewing hundreds of people,” he says.
For Skinner’s parents, the news of the arrest was “bittersweet.”
“There is a small sense of relief that he is not on the streets anymore,” says Skinner’s mother, Ellen. “Christopher was larger than life. He was smart, he was in the gifted program, he was in plays, he was your best friend, your most loyal friend.”
Skinner’s father, Warren, says he “never lost hope” that the police would find his son’s killers even as the years wore on.
The family have set up the Chris Skinner Memorial Foundation, which raises money in his name for children’s groups and other charities. Money from the family’s reward trust that is unclaimed by the original donors will be put in the memorial foundation.