Killer who shot man dead while collecting $20 drug debt gets a break from judge's error

Justin Langan was home with his family watching TV when there was a knock at their door. He was dead minutes later over $20 drug debt

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A killer who burst into a man’s Regina home to collect a $20 drug debt has had his first-degree murder conviction overturned for shooting the man dead because of a flaw in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury.

Chad Barre is not walking free, however, as a panel of Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan judges substituted a second-degree murder conviction instead.

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The chaotic and messy shotgun murder speaks to the violence and trauma that can quickly erupt in the illicit drug trade.

A jury heard that Justin Langan, 40, was at his home with his wife, a young niece and nephew, and two other children when there was a knock at their door about 7:45 p.m., on Feb. 18, 2018.

Langan and his wife were watching television in the living room while the children were upstairs watching YouTube videos.

Two of the children ran downstairs to open the door and were met by Barre and another man who walked inside. One of the children testified at trial they knew Barre but not the other man. The stranger seemed to be hiding something under his clothes.

The children went upstairs, court heard, and Barre went towards Langan demanding $20 he owed from buying methamphetamine.

The other man pulled out a shotgun and handed it to Barre, and Barre pointed it at Langan, who said he didn’t have the money, court heard.

The two intruders said they would take the couple’s television instead and the other man started unplugging the TV as Langan’s wife got up to try to stop him, she testified.

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It sparked a “tug of war” between them over the TV, she told court.

Meanwhile, Barre and Langan walked towards the door talking. Barre still had the gun but wasn’t pointing it at Langan, court heard.

When the tug of war ended in the man’s favour, Langan’s wife fell over a coffee table onto the floor and Langan turned to help her.

A popping sound was heard by the wife and the children upstairs, and Langan fell to the ground and the two men fled with the TV in a truck. Langan was dead.

That evidence was accepted by a jury in 2020. After less than five hours of deliberation, jurors returned a verdict against Barre, then 34 years old, of guilty to first-degree murder.

Barre appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial.

His lawyer, Daniel LeBlanc, argued the judge had erred in his instructions to the jury on applying the law. The guilty verdict was based on the conclusion that Barre caused Langan’s death while committing the offence of unlawful confinement.

The trial judge failed to tell the jury that in law, the confinement of Langan had to be distinct from, and not subsumed in, the killing.

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The appeal court agreed an error was made in the judge’s instructions.

“As a result of the flawed charge, the jury was ill equipped to consider whether the confinement and killing were discrete events arising out of the same transaction,” Justice Jillyne Drennan wrote on behalf of a panel of three judges. “I am not satisfied that the verdict would necessarily have been the same absent this error.”

Barre did not win his appeal, or a new trial, however.

“I am satisfied that the jury was properly instructed on the elements required to ground a conviction for second degree murder,” Drennan wrote in the decision, released Friday.

“By remitting the matter back for trial, this Court would be interfering with their unchallenged findings that Mr. Barre had, beyond a reasonable doubt, the intention to and did commit a culpable murder.

“Ordering a new trial in these circumstances would not be in the interests of justice.

“It is further my view that it is in the interests of justice that a verdict of guilt on the lesser-included offence of second-degree murder should be substituted for the first-degree murder verdict.”

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Convictions for first- or second-degree murder both require a mandatory life sentence, however first-degree convictions require a period of 25-years before parole eligibility.

The appeal judges said lawyers on both prosecution and defence sides should make submissions on what Barre’s parole eligibility should be now. That punishment will be decided by the appeal panel, as the trial judge has retired.

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