A North Vancouver man has been found guilty of first-degree murder for killing a fellow drug dealer with an axe after kidnapping him.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Barry Davies convicted Babak Najafi-Chaghabouri, 30, of first-degree murder for killing Ronak “Ronny” Wagad at a remote site near the Fraser River on Feb. 23, 2009.
Davies found a second man accused in the killing — Charles Anthony Leslie, 34, — guilty of second-degree murder.
The verdict follows a lengthy trial in which both men pointed to the other as responsible for the gruesome killing — described by Davies as “cut-throat defences.”
Davies ruled both men were ultimately responsible for Wagad’s death, but Najafi-Chaghabouri was the one who wielded the hatchet for the fatal blows.
Key evidence in the trial came from Travis Winterlik, an accomplice of Najafi-Chaghabouri and Leslie, who helped lead police to Wagad’s remains and testified in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Winterlik described how the three men — who were all involved in drug dealing — made a plan in Najafi-Chaghabouri’s apartment to kidnap and rob Wagad of drugs and money.
While Winterlik also testified about a plan to kill Wagad, Davies said his evidence was tainted and couldn’t be relied on. He said most of the evidence pointed to a plan to kidnap and rob Wagad that got out of control.
During the trial, Winterlik testified about how the three men overpowered Wagad in the parking garage of his upscale West End apartment, beat him and shoved him in the trunk of a car before taking him to North Vancouver where he was beaten again, duct taped and eventually driven out past Chilliwack.
Winterlik described how Wagad escaped from the trunk and tried to run for his life when they stopped the car off a Highway 1 exit near Chilliwack.
But Najafi-Chaghabouri chased Wagad down and dragged him back to the trunk.
When Leslie stopped driving and opened the trunk at a remote site near the Fraser River, Winterlik said he walked a short distance away and never saw who actually killed Wagad.
Afterwards, however, he said he saw the blood-covered hatchet in the trunk of the car. He also saw specks of blood on Najafi-Chaghabouri’s shirt and hands.
Winterlik said Najafi-Chaghabouri threatened him moments after the killing, saying, “You see how quick I chopped this guy up? If you say anything to anyone I won’t think twice about chopping you up, just the same.”
Winterlik fled to Belize in April 2009 but was tracked down by RCMP and brought back to B.C. under an immunity deal.
Davies said testimony from two other witnesses pointed to Najafi-Chaghabouri as the killer.
Ali Reza Alamdari, 60, who was Najafi-Chaghabouri’s roommate in North Vancouver, testified that Najafi-Chaghabouri confessed that he’d killed Wagad, saying he had “hit the man in the head with an axe” and that “his brain just spurted out, exploded.”
Alamdari said Najafi-Chaghabouri told him Leslie asked him not to kill Wagad, saying they should just leave him in the bush. But he said Najafi-Chaghabouri told Leslie they had to go through with it, and demanded that Leslie hand over the axe.
Another witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, described how Najafi-Chaghabouri said he’d made Wagad kneel on the ground in front of the car before taking the hatchet to his head.
The witness testified Najafi-Chaghabouri said Leslie asked him not to go through with the killing, telling him ‘Stop. You’re going too far.’
The witness also described being asked to clean a necklace worn by Najafi-Chaghabouri. Police later found Wagad’s blood on the necklace.
Because Najafi-Chaghabouri killed Wagad while kidnapping and forcibly confining him, Davies found the North Vancouver man guilty of first-degree murder. That carries a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
Davies found Leslie guilty of second-degree murder, saying while he hadn’t planned to kill Wagad in advance, he was still responsible for the violence that led to the death, including handing the hatchet to Najafi-Chaghabouri.
“When Leslie relinquished the hatchet, Wagad’s death became a certainty,” wrote Davies.
Forensic evidence showed Wagad died after receiving five chop wounds to his head and neck.
Wagad was killed just a week after Najafi-Chaghabouri won the right to stay in Canada after appealing a deportation order before the Immigration and Refugee Board. A spokeswoman for the board said the stay was removed after Najafi-Chaghabouri was charged with murder and the deportation order remains on the books.
A hearing in July will determine how long Leslie will have to stay in jail before he is eligible for parole. That could range from 10 to 25 years.
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