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Supreme Court of Canada upholds first-degree murder verdict for Darren Sundman

Jordan McLeod was still "confined" after he jumped out of truck in attempt to escape his killers, SCC finds
Supreme Court of Canada

A man who chased and then killed an adversary who escaped from a moving pickup truck just outside Prince George will remain guilty of first-degree murder, says the Supreme Court of Canada.

In a decision issued Thursday, the nation's highest court dismissed an appeal of a lower court decision for Darren Cayley Daniel Sundman for the January 2015 murder of Jordan Taylor McLeod.

Sundman had originally been found guilty of second-degree murder by a B.C. Supreme Court Justice and, in July 2018, was sentenced to life without eligibility for parole for 16 years.

Crown subsequently appealed the decision and in February 2021, the B.C. Court of Appeal upgraded the conviction to first-degree murder. With the SCC endorsing the the BCCA decision, Sundman must now serve at least 25 years before he can apply for parole.

McLeod was just 24 years old when he was shot to death after he jumped out of a moving pickup truck just as it had turned onto Upper Fraser Road from Highway 16 to escape his assailants.

McLeod had found himself in the pickup with Sundman, and two co-accused, Sebastian Blake Martin and Kurtis Riley Sundman, as well as a woman who turned out to be a key witness, Stacey Stevenson, who was at the centre of a romantic rivalry between McLeod and Darren Sundman.

The two were also rivals in the area's drug trade.

As they headed along Highway 16, Sundman started hitting McLeod with a handgun. When the truck slowed down to make a turn, McLeod jumped out and tried to run away.

Sundman and the two accomplices chased after him. Sundman then shot McLeod several times, stopping him from being able to run any farther.

Martin then said “I got him, boss,” before shooting the victim at close range, killing him almost instantly.

In finding Sundman guilty of second-degree murder, B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams reasoned that the killing was not planned and that the victim managed to escape his confinement when he jumped out of the truck.

In overturning the verdict, the BCCA found the victim could still be considered “confined” because he was being chased and the SCC agreed.

Writing for a unanimous SCC, Justice Mahmud Jamal said that, “as a matter of law and common sense”, the victim’s “brief escape” from the truck does not change the seriousness of Sundman’s crime.

“On any sensible view,” he wrote, Sundman’s “moral blameworthiness cannot be considered to be lower” simply because the victim “managed to jump from a moving truck and was running for his life when he was executed just moments later."

Nikos Harris, an associate professor in the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia said the outcome is "quite consistent with prior decisions on this issue."

"But it hadn't been looked at for a long time," Harris said. "Some of the main precedents around this are now 30-40 years old so it was a chance for the court to revisit some of these basic principles."

The incident amounted to a "very unique type of first-degree murder," Harris said, noting that while planning and aforethought and killing a police officer are commonly associated with the act, confinement can also raise a killing to first-degree.

"It's a very principled interpretation of the idea of confinement," Harris said of the SCC decision. "Confinement is much more than being physically confined and somebody can still be suffering from a confinement as they're attempting to escape that confinement."

Martin was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life without eligibility for parole for 13 years and Sundman was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years less credit of four years four months and 15 days for time served prior to sentencing.

Those verdicts were not appealed to the SCC.