When Kenneth Bryson Williams was convicted in the 2014 murder of Robert Tyson Smith, there was no doubt that Williams had been drinking that evening in Earls Restaurant on Robson Street.
In fact, the bartender testified that Williams and his friend, Robert White, were drunk when they left the restaurant around 9:30 p.m.
Smith was stabbed to death an hour and a half later at the corner of Granville and West Georgia streets.
At trial, Williams raised a defence of intoxication, testifying that he drank more than one tequila shooter at a Granville Street bar leaving the restaurant.
That led the jury to ask the judge for clarification as to whether they could consider whether Williams continued to drink.
A B.C. Supreme Court justice, Patrice Abrioux, told a jury that they "should not focus or speculate as to what may or may not have happened during the unaccounted time".
Today, a three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel ruled that the trial judge "failed to answer the jury's question correctly and completely".
As a result, Williams's second-degree murder conviction was quashed and the three judges ordered a new trial.
"The jury may have understood the answer as directing it not to consider what the appellant did during the 'unaccounted for time,' when there was evidence capable of supporting a reasonable inference that he continued to drink," Justice Gregory Fitch wrote in a decision affirmed by the two other justices. "The judge should have clarified the distinction between impermissible speculation and inference and reviewed the evidence the jury could consider in determining whether to infer that the appellant continued to drink in the one-and-a-half hours leading up to the stabbing.
"The judge’s answer prejudiced the appellant’s intoxication defence."
After the 2017 trial, Abrioux sentenced Williams to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 10 years.
Williams conceded at trial that he was a heavy drinker, consuming up to 15 beers after work three or four times a week.
He also testified that he suffered from alcohol-induced blackouts.
The Crown maintained that Williams committed the crime when he intervened in a fight between White and Smith.
Williams's lawyer argued that there was a reasonable doubt over whether Williams or White stabbed Smith. In the alternative, Williams's lawyer insisted that he was intoxicated to such a degree that he couldn't have met the legal test for intent for a second-degree murder conviction.
This was reflected in Williams's testimony.
"He claimed to have no memory of the rest of the evening, including his attendance at Earls, and woke up in what he thought was the 'drunk tank'," Fitch wrote. "He testified that he did not know whether he stabbed Mr. Smith."