The two dead guys shot each other. That’s what defense lawyer Glen Orris told the jury yesterday in closing statements at the murder trial of Dennis Knibbs.
But key evidence that could support or refute Orris’ version of events is missing – due to a blunder by the Vancouver Police. The VPD did not have either victim checked for gun powder residue on their hands and arms.
Prosecutor Michael Luchencko agrees with Orris that one of the dead guys murdered the other. But only one. The second dead guy was murdered by a man who walked out of the New Wings Hotel on Apr. 4, 2005. That shooter, Luchencko alleged in his closing statement to the jury, was the defendant Dennis Knibbs.
Prosecutor Michael Luchencko’s last words to the jury:
A few days before they were killed, Aliston “Ian” Liscombe and Trumaine “Ekoh” Habib, two young drug dealers inside the New Wings Hotel, had a fight. Liscombe had felt that Habib was, in the words of Liscombe’s girlfriend Susan Panich, “cutting his grass”, encroaching on his drug profits. Liscombe and the defendant, Dennis “Rocka” Knibbs, in his twenties, were cousins and “had joint interests” in the New Wings drug trade.
During the fight, Liscombe and Nabib were punching one another outside a room in the New Wings Hotel by Leroy Charlie, 19. Habib had entered Charlie’s room to get a baseball bat which he used to whack Liscombe on the head. Knibbs then arrived on the scene and gave a punch to Habib, putting an end to the fight. Liscombe got stitches to the cut on his head. He was “a little pissed off”, Panich testified.
Habib was barred from the New Wings Hotel by the manager after using the baseball bat on Liscombe. But Habib returned. "He no doubt returned to sell drugs." Drugs were found in a tan jacket belonging to Nabib which was found near his body in Leroy Charlie’s room where he sometimes stayed as a guest.
In the hours before the shootings, Nabib arrived at Charlie’s room and pulled a Winchester sawed off shotgun in a zippered bag out of his pants. He showed the weapon to Charlie who then left and went to his brother’s room in the building. It is likely that Nabib brought the shotgun into the building “to protect himself from no one in particular” because of the drug business he was in. When Liscombe saw Charlie in the hall, he asked if he knew where Nabib was and Charlie lied, “No.”
Liscombe didn’t believe Charlie and went over to his room and pushed on the door. Liscombe was quickly joined by Knibbs who stood behind him, pushing on the door as well. Liscombe and Knibbs were “aggressively trying to open the door by force”. They were “pumped”, just having been seen by witnesses expelling another man “with connections to Ekoh [Nabib]” from the hotel. As the door opened, Nabib “tries to defend himself”. He shoots Ian with his shotgun, a shooting which “may or may not have been justifiable”. We don’t know if Liscombe’s apparent attempt to kick the barrel of the shotgun, as described by witness Michael Vandeneele, contributed to it discharging.
Knibbs whipped out a police style baton from a pouch on his chest and entered the room. Habib suffered repeated blows by a baton or a similar instrument to his back, injuries that pathologist Dr. Laurel Grey confirmed “show the weight and roundness of a baton”. Habib also had injuries to his head, Grey reported, which were “likely to have been caused by a baton.” There is a possibility that the strike to Habib’s head by the baton had left him “dazed” or “stunned”.
Nabib “quickly loses control of the shotgun” after Knibbs entered the room. Nabib would have otherwise had time to rack the shotgun and shoot Knibbs who was attacking him with the baton. To fire the shotgun – Luchencko had earlier asked the jury to remember that the shotgun was heavy -- “requires a racking procedure that generally will require two hands.”
As Knibbs beat Habib, there was “nothing to prevent Rocka [Knibbs] from turning around and walking out; nobody was intending to shoot him or harm him.” The damage to Nabib’s head and back coupled with the shattered glass from a ceiling fixture “shows the effort behind the blows reigning down on Ekoh [Nabib]” “Effectively, he was unable to defend himself.” .
At this point Nabib “doesn’t have a gun; he’s been beaten down.” Knibbs then took out a handgun and fired four shots at very close range, at least two of which were fired from a range of less than 30 centimetres, as indicated by the powder residue around Nabib’s wounds and shirt. Two shots entered Nabib from behind: one entered behind his ear and left through his mouth, another entered behind his shoulder. A third shot entered his chest and exited through his back.
Then came the “coup de gras”. Despite Nabib being in a state in which he was not able to defend himself any further, Knibbs picked up the shotgun. He used it to shoot Nabib in the chest, a shot which Dr. Grey said would have killed him immediately.
A couple of machetes have been found by police between the mattresses of the bed, machetes which were “obviously not used by Nabib in any way, shape, or form.” Consider him using them: “he's then going to put them back between the mattresses? Does that make sense?” The machetes “played no part in the scenario.”
“Once the gun had been taken away from Ekoh [Nabib], there was no danger to Rocka [Knibbs] or Ian [Liscombe]”. “Rocka chose to stay there and extract as much vengeance as possible, first with the baton, then with the handgun, then with the shotgun.”
Luchencko then pre-empted the story he anticipated defense lawyer Glen Orris would run by the jury – a version that put Liscombe on the bed doing the shooting, not Knibbs. Liscombe’s “abdomen was blown off”, Luchencko continued. “We submit that his sole intent was to get to the bed to try to keep his entrails in his abdomen.” Liscombe, with his “hands or hands, clutched his belly and was physically incapable of racking the shotgun or using a handgun.”
Keep in mind that the shots were coming from different directions. “Whoever was doing the shooting was moving around.” Keep in mind that the ambulance paramedic, Reed Whiting, had to get a stretcher because Liscombe “wasn’t going to walk.”
Anticipating that the defense would not only present Liscombe as the shooter but the one who brought the handgun into the room, Luchencko turned the jury’s attention to witness Michael Vandeneele. According to Vandeneele’s testimony, Knibbs had a handgun prior to the shootings which was similar to one the firearms expert said was used in the shooting. Vandeneele also testified that he had seen Knibbs attempting to reload the gun outside the room after shots were fired, meaning he must’ve had fresh bullets. “It’s not reasonable to say you’d be walking around with bullets if you don’t have a gun.”
This was not self-defense. It’s self-defense only if he intends to prevent an assault, “if he uses no more force than is necessary to prevent assault.” “If you shoot somebody with a handgun from 30 centimetres , right under the ear at such an angle that it goes out through their mouth, what is your intent?”
Defense lawyer Glen Orris’ last words to the jury:
“Ian and Ekoh are both dead and they probably killed each other.”
There was some animosity between Ian Liscombe and Ekoh Habib, a fact acknowledged by Liscombe’s girlfriend Susan Panich. “Ian was a bit pissed off”, after the altercation in which he needed stitches after being hit on the head with a baseball bat by Habib.
But Knibbs and Liscombe had not gone to Nabib’s room with an intent to kill him. Panich and Liscombe had plans to go out that night to buy a Rolex watch. But Liscombe tells her “to wait”, that they’ll go out later. “He’s heard that Ekoh [Nabib] is in the building and he goes looking for him.”
Liscombe was shot going into the room where Nabib was staying. He was shot by Habib who was holding a shotgun. “That’s the first loud bang” in a series of bangs that witnesses have reported hearing.
As Liscombe enters the room, he pulls out his handgun – Panich said she had seen him with a handgun 3 or 4 months earlier – and “fires at Habib” whose probably coming at him. “So we have a wound to Habib’s chest.” A second shot comes from the bed, misses and hits the floor.
Maybe Knibbs has a baton and is hitting Nabib on the back as he goes for Liscombe. Nabib has his back to Knibbs at the time. The prosecution has said that Nabib was kneeling while Knibbs was hitting him with a baton, but you wouldn’t be breaking the light fixture then, “but if he’s standing up you would be, trying to get him off Liscombe.”
Nabib is fighting. He would not have been “stunned” from a strike to the head from the baton, as the prosecutor claimed. The pathologist, Dr. Laurel Grey, had not come to that conclusion: she said there were “no injuries to the underlying scalp or skull.” Dr. Grey further said that Nabib’s wounds from the handgun would not have been immediately lethal. When a person is shot, they don't always fall quickly. This is not the movies.
Habib attempts to pump shotgun to shoot it a second time. Knibbs reaches around and grabs it, so his fingerprint is on it. But his fingerprint is in a "downward direction" on the barrel, the direction necessary to pump the shotgun to a back position -- a position from which it cannot be fired.
Habib turns away from Liscombe who is still firing the hand gun and, as he turns to the right, Liscombe shoots him under the ear, and as he is turning around, Liscombe shoots him in the back left shoulder from approximately the same range "‘cause he’s very close to the bed when he turns". Rather than the gun moving in relation to Habib, as the prosecutor claimed, Habib was “moving in relation to the gun.”
Perhaps there’s a struggle over the shotgun. It either dropped or ends up on the bed. Habib turns to deal with Liscombe who is out of bullets for his handgun. Liscombe racks the shotgun and gives Nabib a second shot in the chest. It’s a quick death, as Dr. Grey said it would have been, resulting in Nabib falling off the bed with his left leg still on the bed. That was the position that Constable Gillespie, one of the first police officers to arrive, found him in: “Habib’s left leg was on the bed, about half of the left leg is on the bed, slightly bent resting there.” Habib had clearly climbed onto the bed where Liscombe was.
The diagram produced by firearms expert, Rob Taunt, shows one of the bullets having been shot from the direction of the bed, “from just above the edge of the bed to about a foot and a half above the edge of the bed.” When New Wings resident Leroy Charlie went into the room to get his coat, he saw Liscombe “sitting on the bed with his back up against the wall, a location that would marry up perfectly with this diagram.”
Liscombe was not checked for gun powder residue on his hands and arms – gas and powder residue from combustion escapes though openings around the cylinder of a handgun, Rob Taunt said – and neither was Habib. “That should have been done.”
“Two people who were antagonists could very well have shot each other.”
But in coming to a verdict, “You can’t base it on speculation or guesswork." Crown prosecutors have to prove their case to the point that you are “sure” that Mr. Knibbs did the shooting, “sure” that he had an intent to kill or do grievous bodily harm, and you have to be “sure” that he wasn’t acting in self-defense.
In their closing statements, there was one thing that both Orris and Luchencko told the jury: The defendant, Mr. Knibbs, doesn’t have to prove a thing.