A former Vernon man has been denied a retrial by Canada’s highest court and has had his murder conviction restored in relation to the death of a Japanese exchange student.
The Supreme Court of Canada decided Friday, Oct. 7, that William Victor Schneider will not be granted a retrial after he was convicted by a jury in October 2018 of the second-degree murder of exchange student Natsumi Kogawa. He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 14 years.
Two weeks after Kogawa was reported missing, her body was found stuffed in a suitcase in Vancouver’s West End in September 2016. Schneider, now in his 50s, was arrested in Vernon shortly afterwards.
Schneider won a B.C. Court of Appeal decision in 2021, which granted him a retrial. The Crown challenged this decision in the Supreme Court.
Schneider’s lawyers argued the trial judge erred in admitting statements from a telephone call Schneider made to his wife while he was in Vernon’s Polson Park. The call was overheard by Schneider’s brother, who heard him say something along the lines of “I did it” or “I killed her.”
The phone conversation was considered hearsay because Schneider’s brother was not directly participating in the call.
In Friday’s 7-2 split decision by the Supreme Court panel, the court ruled that the phone conversation was admissible under an exception to a rule that typically does not allow for hearsay.
“The trial judge did not err in admitting the brother’s testimony as to what he overheard the accused say,” reads the decision.
In writing for the majority, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Malcolm Rowe has upheld the Crown appeal of the overturned conviction, finding the trial judge was correct to admit the overheard conversation.
The jury was given “clear and effective instructions” on the weaknesses of the brother’s testimony and how jurors should consider it, says Rowe.
“The instructions gave the jury the guidance needed to weigh the evidence in accordance with legal principles. As such, the instructions effectively and adequately limited the possibility of prejudicial use,” he writes.
The Crown’s theory at Schneider’s original trial was that he and Kogawa were on a date when he became angry because she had to leave. He killed her by smothering her, the Crown argued, although an exact cause of death was never determined.
Schneider pleaded guilty to interfering with Kogawa’s body when he placed it in a suitcase and admitted that he disposed of the remains by leaving them on the grounds of the Gabriola House mansion in the city’s West End, but he has always denied any part in the murder.
With the decision, Schneider now has no recourse to further challenge the verdict. He will now finish the rest of his sentence of life in prison with no parole for 14 years.
- with files from Canadian Press