NAPANEE, Ont.—Eleven years after admitting to arranging the contract killing of multimillionaire Toronto businessman and philanthropist Glen Davis, Marshall Ross is standing trial for allegedly trying to have four others murdered — including Davis’s widow.
Escorted by five OPP officers and wearing ankle shackles and handcuffs, Ross shuffled into the historic Napanee courthouse Monday for the opening day of the case in this southeastern Ontario town about 250 kilometres east of Toronto.
Ross replied “not guilty” when asked by a court clerk if he counselled a fellow prison inmate to kill four individuals. Standing just outside the prisoner dock was his lawyer, veteran Toronto defender Peter Zaduk. The large, ornate courtroom was otherwise empty save for the judge, two prosecutors, court staff, security officers and a handful of observers — none related to Ross.
Turning 52 later this summer, Ross retains a boyish appearance despite his incarceration since his arrest in 2009, almost two years after the 66-year-old Davis was fatally shot on May 18, 2007, in the underground parking lot of 245 Eglinton Ave. E. Ross pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in October 2011 and was sentenced to life without parole eligibility for 25 years.
The “events” leading to his imprisonment are “inextricably linked” to the current allegations and are tied to unpaid debts and lawsuits, Crown attorney Monica Heine told Superior Court Justice Graeme Mew during her opening statement.
Heine provided some historical background to the judge, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Toronto residents Davis and his wife, Mary Alice, had no children but developed a close relationship with Marshall Ross, who was Davis’s younger second cousin. Ross, their godson, called them aunt and uncle.
Davis’s father was the business tycoon Nelson Morgan Davis, described by author Peter C. Newman as “one of the super-rich Canadians of his generation,” although he was originally from Ohio. He died in 1979, and Glen Davis eventually inherited the bulk of his estate.
In 2004, Davis, through N.M. Davis Corp., agreed to provide financial backing of up to $2.5 million to Ross who wanted to buy, renovate and sell properties in Toronto. The deal included a formal loan agreement which included interest payable and monthly payments. Over time, Ross dug himself into a deep financial hole but Davis made it clear the money needed to be repaid to the corporation, the prosecutor said.
At the same time, the philanthropist was donating sizable amounts to charities, primarily to the World Wildlife Foundation because of his commitment to conservation.
“This angered Ross,” Heine said. On Dec. 21, 2005, Davis was brutally beaten by two men wielding a baseball bat. At a court proceeding more than a decade ago, one of those attackers testified they had filled the bat with dog kibble to ensure it weighed enough. After Davis was killed in 2007, that man was later arrested on unrelated charges and told police Ross was behind the beating.
Now that Ross was a suspect in the murder, the Toronto police commenced a wiretap investigation that led to the collection of incriminating calls and, eventually, Ross’s guilty plea in a Toronto court.
Two men who worked for Ross’s unsuccessful home renovation business were convicted by a Toronto jury of carrying out the execution. Ross admitted believing that by murdering Davis the loan to Davis Corp. would be wiped out.
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“He was, of course, wrong,” Heine said Monday, explaining how a lawsuit was commenced in 2009 in which the Davis Corp. trustees tried to recoup the money loaned to Ross.
For years, the lawsuit dragged through the courts, and, by 2019, it was drawing “more and more tightly around Mr. Ross and his family and his desperation increased,” she said.
Enter “Joe,” a pseudonym given to a prison inmate whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban.
Behind bars at a federal institution near Kingston, Ross and Joe became friends, she continued. In 2019-20, Ross confided to Joe that he intended to escape to Belize and enlisted his help to kill four people: Davis’s widow, Mary Alice; Keith Jones, former chauffeur and general manager of Davis Corp.; Peter Quinn, lawyer to Davis Corp.; and Tom Whealy, a friend and business partner of the corporation.
Since Ross’s spring 2020 arrest on his current charge and until Monday, their identities had been covered under a publication ban.
Ross “believed by killing these people, he could escape the civil liability for the loan which was at that time, still outstanding and putting an end to the lawsuit,” Heine said. The Crown’s case includes a handwritten document Ross allegedly gave Joe disclosing personal information about the four targets.
On Monday, Jones and Quinn were the first witnesses to testify at the trial, which could last up to two weeks.
Jones grew emotional recounting Davis’s beating and subsequent murder — when his boss was “shot down like a dog.”
As the Davis Corp. lawyer, Quinn described the terms of the loan agreement to Ross and protracted efforts to collect the debt. He also provided details about another Davis Corp. lawsuit filed against Ross, for the fraudulent conveyance of the matrimonial house and his half ownership of a cottage to his ex-wife.
Under cross-examination, Quinn agreed with defence lawyer Zaduk’s suggestion that Ross would not benefit in his lawsuit by killing him or the other alleged targets, and the company would still be able to pursue civil action against him — even if they were dead.
Therefore, the defence is expected to argue Ross had no motive.
The trial continues Tuesday when “Joe” is scheduled to begin testifying via zoom.
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy
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