Windsor man found guilty of second degree murder after Ganatchio Trail attack
WINDSOR, ONT. -- A Windsor man is facing a life sentence after being found guilty of second degree murder for the attack of an elderly woman on the Ganatchio Trail three years ago.
On Friday, Justice Bruce Thomas read his decision that found Habibullah Ahmadi, 24, who goes by Danny, guilty of murder for repeated blows to the head of Sara Anne Widholm while she was on a morning walk on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017.
“We’re very pleased with the ruling of Justice Thomas,” said Renee Puskas, the assistant crown attorney. “It was an absolutely vicious beating and although he had consumed drugs, it was quite obvious he knew what he was doing.”
It was shortly before 8 a.m. after a night of smoking marijuana and consuming magic mushrooms with a group of friends, including Evan Hooper-Gelinas, that Ahmadi attacked Widholm along the trail.
Hooper-Gelinas testified the pair went to the trail long after consuming magic mushrooms at about 2 a.m.
In his decision, Justice Thomas told the court Ahmadi had likely consumed about 10 grams of the psilocybin mushrooms — twice the amount of what the court was told would be a high dosage.
Justice Thomas described a “ferocious” assault targeted at Widholm’s head with Ahmadi landing several “quick strikes” including 10 punches to the face and 10 elbows to the face before picking up the elderly Widholm and body slamming her to the ground.
The defence argued Ahmadi could not be held criminally responsible for the attack because his drug consumption created an altered state of mind and therefore, he did not comprehend his actions.
The court heard testimony of an interview of Ahmadi by Sgt. Chris Shaw of the Windsor Police Service after Ahmadi’s arrest.
“I think, um, I was trying to help her and she scared me. It was really dark,” Ahmadi told police.
Justice Thomas noted Ahmadi seemed to appreciate his situation and the injury he inflicted but, dismissed the defence of automatism, pointing to expert opinion in his decision which indicated the drugs would have been wearing off by the time of the attack.
Justice Thomas also pointed to testimony from Hooper-Gelinas who told the court he had “come down” by then.
“I have a great deal of respect for his honour, Justice Thomas, but, I just respectfully disagree with his findings and his decision,” said Patricia Brown, the defence attorney representing Ahmadi. “I do disagree with his perspective on my client’s state of mind at the time of this horrific event.”
Court heard Widholm, who was 75 years old at the time of the attack, suffered extensive skull fractures, multiple brain hemorrhage and injuries to her face and neck.
She was left in a persistent vegetative state and would die 14 months later.
“I can say that I’ve never seen anything like this and I’m 30 years doing this job,” said Puskas, describing the out-of-the-blue attack as highly unusual.
Puskas points to surveillance cameras as key evidence to corroborate testimony from Hooper-Gelinas and to also show Ahmadi’s actions following the assault.
Court heard Ahmadi scaled a six foot barbed-wire fence and got rid of his bloody sweater in his bid to evade police.
“It was remarkable assistance in terms of the post-offence conduct,” said Puskas. “That is what he did after the fact that would seem to rebut a defence that he didn’t know what he was doing.”
Ahmadi pleaded not guilty to second degree murder on Aug. 27.
Brown says a conversation with her client will need to be had before determining a possible appeal.
“These are things that I will be discussing at length with my client as to what our options are and we will be moving forward as he directs me to,” said Brown.
Justice Thomas has set Jan. 11 - Jan. 12, 2021 for sentencing submissions.
Puskas will be calling for victim impact evidence from friends and family — even potentially politicians.
“We have had some people reach out to us to indicate a willingness to come to court to testify about how this has affected the community because of course it happened during daylight, on a public trail that is used by many residents of the city and it’s caused a lot of concern going forward about community safety,” said Puskas.
Puskas adds a finding of second degree murder includes a life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
Shaw was in attendance at the proceedings in Windsor on Friday and told reporters he hopes the verdict provides “some measure of comfort” to friends and family of Widholm.
Despite the jarring attack in a public place, Shaw hopes the case shows the community police are ready to serve and protect.
“Crime can happen at any time at any place but, I don’t think you should live your life being afraid,” said Shaw. “I think we live in a safe community.”
Due to COVID-19 public health measures, a limited number of people could watch the proceedings inside of the court room. Puskas says friends and family of Widholm watched via an online stream while family members of Ahmadi attended in-person.