Marlon Wilson, one of the Crown’s key witnesses in the last high-profile Galloway Boys gang trial, warned the court before he testified: “I’m going to say that everything I said before was a lie.”
He’d already made it clear he didn’t want to point a finger against the Galloway Boys because he didn’t want to die in jail.
“What’s goin’ happen to me if I testify people and go back to the pen? Crazy. I’m not doin’ that,” he said on the stand in 2009. “I’m in the federal penitentiary, I want to make it outta there. And I have children on the street.”
Wilson was a Galloway Boys associate with a long, violent rap sheet. The Crown’s other star witness, Roland Ellis, was G-Way gang member.
Police had called for all witnesses to come forward, but seemed to have trouble finding people willing to speak up. The Crown ended up with Wilson and Ellis — who were motivated to take the stand because then-leader Tyshan Riley wanted them dead, according to police wiretaps.
Today, police say they’re also having trouble finding witnesses who are willing to testify against the new generation of the Galloway Boys.
No one can say whether what happened back then will happen again, but there are striking similarities between the two generations of the gang.
In 2004, the older generation — specifically Tyshan Riley, Phillip Atkins and Jason Wisdom — murdered an innocent man in a case of mistaken identity: They shot Brenton Charlton to death and seriously wounded his friend Leonard Bell at a stoplight on Finch Avenue, because they mistook them for members of a rival gang.
In 2011, two shooters gunned down an innocent man in what police call a case of “mistaken identity.” According to the cops, new-generation G-Way Boys murdered D’Mitre Barnaby in a parking lot on Lawrence Avenue East because he looked strikingly like a man the gang wanted dead.
The old generation shot two innocent teens — Chris Hyatt and Kofi Patrong — for no apparent reason other than the teens were from Malvern. Police say the new G-Way gang got in a shootout that killed two innocent people, wounding 23 others, at the Danzig Street block party — because some guys at the party were from Malvern.
Some of the Tyshan-Riley generation of the Galloway Boys is “mentoring” members of the younger generation who are currently pulling the triggers, police say, and both generations have guns and a willingness to use them that scares away witnesses.
Even after Marlon Wilson’s about-face on the witness stand in 2009, the jury convicted Tyshan Riley, Phillip Atkins and Jason Widsom of murder and attempted murder for gunning down Charlton and Bell.
“I’m not testifying. I’m not even putting my hand on that Bible,” Wilson said, according to court records. “I’m not going to say my name. I’m not swearin’ on no Bible. I’m not answering no questions. … I’ll do my time, whatever more time I have to do. … So I’m not throwing away my life for this. … I’m not testifying. … Yeah, the risks are high.”
After Justice Michael Dambrot gave him some time to think it over, he agreed to testify, but said that everything he’d ever told police and his entire testimony at the preliminary hearing — which was key to the crown’s case against the three accused — was a lie.
Fortunately for the Crown, lawyers were then legally allowed to read his prior testimony to the jury, securing a conviction.
Lawyer Scott Reid represented Wilson on the perjury charge that followed.
“Tyshan Riley had put a hit out on Marlon. Police actually played Marlon wiretaps where you could hear Mr. Riley and Mr. Atkins talking with other people,” Reid said. “The clear implication was they were going to kill him, if not give him an extremely serious beating.”
In one of the wiretaps preserved in court records, Riley tells an associate to “smash” Wilson, who apparently knew what that meant. “…this guy is a little f***ing rat … I would f***ing break his face … you have to smash him,” Riley said.
Reid’s defence was that Wilson lied under duress.
“Certainly to Marlon, he believed they were about to kill him. Which is not surprising in the gang culture,” he said. “In that culture, you don’t rat, period. You certainly don’t rat on your fellow gang members.”
Justice Michael Cole ultimately disagreed with the duress defence and found that even though the threat on his life was credible, Wilson was safe — in the federal penitentiary system where he was being held on an unrelated crime. He wrote that credible death threats or plots to kill witnesses aren’t enough to protect them from a perjury charge if they lie.
“Witnesses have always been subject to threats from gangsters and the justice system has always expected that protection will be provided to these witnesses,” Code wrote in his decision.
Reid still doesn’t think Wilson was safe, but acknowledges that police went to great lengths to try and protect him while he was in jail. When he was out they put him in the witnesses protection program — until he was kicked out and sent back to jail for aggravated assault.
“Det. Dean Burks was the officer involved in co-ordinating Marlon’s protection. And — you know Det. Burks might be frankly surprised to hear me say this about him — but he generally did a pretty good job,” said Reid.
When Marlon was in the provincial system, Burks made sure he was kept in sections of the jails where no Galloway-affiliated prisoners could get to him and Marlon felt safe enough to testify at the preliminary hearing.
However, when he was sent to the Kingston Penitentiary under federal jurisdiction, he began to get threats. Reid said police have less say in the federal system, and Kingston pen is a notoriously unsafe place to be — even through corrections staff try to keep prisoners away from those who would do them harm.
“The evidence given by the parole officer who testified was that inmates had been assaulted on every range in Kingston Penitentiary, including the segregation ranges that Marlon found himself on,” said Reid. “So it was our position, that given that the risk was not just a minor beating, but a very serious beating or death, that any small possibility that they might get at him, regardless of what range he was on, justified his actions.”
Marlon Wilson was eligible for full parole as of 2012 but, according to the parole board, no application has been made for his release.
Reid said he doesn’t know what his client will do when he gets out. The experience shows him that police will go to great lengths to ensure the safety of witnesses in high-profile trials, but he remains concerned that their power and resources are finite, and so witnesses are still scared.
“They’re the ones on the front lines, so to speak. It’s not the police. The police come the police go, the police go home at night . … People in those communities live there. They have to see these gang members every day. They probably have a good idea of who they are. They can’t just up and move,” he said. “I’m really sympathetic to those people. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s all well and good for the police to say people need to come forward, but if the people don’t feel safe they’re not going to.”
This is the second installment of a three-part series. Read Part 1 here. Tuesday: The murder of a witness sparks a new police plan to help other witnesses