It became apparent early in the Toronto police homicide investigation that Samatar Farah was shot and killed for where he lived, not for who he was.
The 24-year-old Humber College student was gunned down in Chester Le, a Scarborough neighbourhood that has grappled with poverty and gun crime, on Easter weekend four years ago.
After speaking to Farah’s family, watching surveillance video, and examining his electronic devices, Det. Jason Shankaran concluded this was another shocking case of an innocent young man dying over a neighbourhood dispute that had nothing to do with him.
“This wasn’t personal, he wasn’t targeted,” Shankaran said Monday after one of Farah’s shooters, Taufiq Stanley, 24, was sentenced to life in prison. After deliberating for a day and a half, a Toronto jury convicted him of first-degree murder on Oct. 30 following a six-week trial.
Stanley had no known connections to Farah, who had never been in trouble with police. In court on Monday, he was described by family as a respectful, polite and generous young man who “was the light of our house.” He was “the embodiment of what is right in the world,” his family said in a written statement. “We are grieving and heart broken about all the hopes and dreams we have for Samatar.”
Killers targeting victims because of the neighbourhood they live in is not new nor isolated to Toronto. Sometimes they’re connected to beefs stretching back decades.
But Shankaran believes acts of violence directed toward a community — rather than an individual — are increasingly common and says this case offers a window into this type of crime. He declines to elaborate because a co-accused, Alexander Fountain, is set to stand trial early next year.
After Stanley’s arrest, Shankaran told reporters the “senseless” murder was the result of an ongoing feud between two Toronto Community Housing complexes: one at Chester Le, near Victoria Park Avenue and Finch Avenue East, and the other at Parma Court, about 10 kilometres south on Victoria Park just past Eglinton Avenue East.
“I wouldn’t say he was targeted but that the community of Chester Le Boulevard was targeted by these individuals who came in from Parma Court seeking to exact some sort of vengeance for some perceived slight,” Shankaran said in 2017.
During her closing jury address last month, Crown attorney Donna Kellway addressed the absence of a motive, noting it’s not something the prosecution has to establish or prove. Some motives are obvious. For instance, if a person has been gravely wronged and vows revenge.
But in this case, “there is no discernable motive for anyone to want Samatar Farah or any other member of the Chester Le community dead.”
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Yet there were telltale signs, such as the profile and movements of the victim, says Shankaran.
Farah was living in the TCH townhouse complex with his family in the spring of 2017 and around 1 a.m. went outside for a smoke. He left the front door slightly ajar, was wearing pyjama pants and did not take his wallet, keys or phone. He walked about 20 to 30 metres to an isolated area behind a minibus in a parking lot, which others have used to smoke cigarettes or pot.
It was a “vulnerable position to be taken off guard by a couple of cowards,” Kellway told jurors last month.
Included in the copious video surveillance played for the jury were segments showing the two gunmen “circling the Chester Le neighbourhood like vultures, waiting for the moment to strike.” The Crown’s position was that they deliberately walked on the outskirts of the neighbourhood looking “for the right victim, someone not out in the open, someone not directly on (surveillance) camera, someone alone.”
Spotting Farah, the pair approached, guns drawn. They fired, and killed him with bullets to the head and back, before running away.
It was a circumstantial case, and the main contested issue was identity.
When he testified, Stanley admitted that one of the shooters running away looked like him and appeared to be wearing clothes similar to his. But, Stanley said that’s because he loaned his entire outfit, jacket, pants, shoes, jewelry and cellphone to a man who is dead “and unable to defend himself against these accusations,” Kellway said during her closing address.
The prosecution told the jurors they should easily be able to find that the alibi evidence that he, two of his brothers and his girlfriend gave at this trial was “full of lies” and that should be rejected. The Crown also presented evidence Stanley had access to the two firearms that killed Farah and that his cellphone was in the vicinity of the killing.
The jury was not told that two days before the murder, on April 13, 2017, three people standing outside in Chester Le were shot at in the middle of the day. Two were struck by bullets. Investigators established a connection between the two incidents, and charged Stanley and three others with attempted murder and firearms offences.
Two men connected to Parma Court pleaded guilty to being occupants of a car with a firearm. Attempted murder charges against Stanley were stayed.
Shankaran said while every murder in the city is unacceptable, homicide investigators are particularly motivated to solve homicides involving people “innocently going about their day and taken for seemingly senseless reasons.”
Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy
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