A Winnipeg man found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a sleeping toddler has lost his bid to have the conviction overturned.
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Daniel Jensen was sentenced to life in prison in 2021 after a jury found him guilty of killing three-year-old Hunter Smith-Straight, his former girlfriend’s son.
Jensen appealed the conviction, arguing video evidence presented during the trial of him assaulting the boy’s mother shortly before the killing was prejudicial.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal says the trial judge did not make a mistake in allowing the video because its probative value outweighed its prejudicial effect.
Jensen’s defence lawyer had argued during the appeal hearing that the video may have evoked an emotional response with the jury and that Jensen was not claiming he was too intoxicated as part of his defence.
During the trial, court heard Jensen and the boy’s mother were drinking at a bar when Jensen became violent and assaulted the mother before attacking the boy as a way to get back at her.
The video established Jensen’s motor skills around the time the murder, the Court of Appeal decision said.
“The Crown sought to admit into evidence a surveillance video, which captured the accused assaulting the victim’s mother prior to the murder. The video was relevant, material and admissible as to intoxication and motive on the murder charge,” said the May 31 decision.
Jensen and the boy’s mother had been in an on-and-off relationship for about seven months. At the time of the attack, Jensen was bound by a court order not to have contact with her.
On the evening of Oct. 29, 2019, the two were together with another couple when they visited lounges and a casino before ending the night at a bar in Winnipeg’s North End.
Jensen and the woman violently fought that night, and witnesses testified that he threatened to have Hunter taken away from his mother.
The trial judge concluded the video was “directly relevant to the motive of the accused to commit murder, as it revealed the full extent of his animus towards the mother,” Justice Janice leMaistre wrote in the Appeal Court decision.
The video surveillance showed Jensen kneeing and punching the boy’s mother before he left the bar.
Court heard Jensen made the short walk home where he was living with the mother and the boy. The Crown argued Jensen stabbed the sleeping toddler before fleeing the house.
“The trial judge was well aware of the potential for the video to evoke an emotional response and carefully instructed the jury on its permitted use just before it was played and again in his final jury instructions,” the decision said.
The decision also noted Jensen did not ask the trial judge to revisit his decision to admit the video at any point during the trial.
The Appeal Court determined the trial judge “applied the correct legal principles” and his decision did not amount to any injustice.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2023.