Why Smoke Dawg’s gold chain is at the center of another Toronto lawsuit
The older brother of a murdered Toronto rapper was seeking revenge on an infamous gold chain when he killed 30-year-old Michael Lewis in broad daylight at a memorial barbecue in Coronation Park.
That’s the prosecution’s theory, presented to jurors who retired on Wednesday to begin deliberations after hearing Andrew Douglas, 29, testify that he was not guilty of first-degree murder because he was acting in self-defense when he shot Lewis six times on September 2. , 2018.
As with many Toronto homicides, the alleged motive in this just-concluded trial was retaliation – although the defense urged the jury to dismiss the Crown’s theory as implausible.
At the heart of the case is a chunky gold chain with a pendant of the Toronto skyline, the slogan « All Money In » and the city’s main area code, 416.
The prosecution alleges the chain initially belonged to Lewis but ended up with Regent Park rapper Smoke Dawg, Douglas’ brother. In 2017, Lewis publicly ripped his chain off Smoke Dawg, and shortly after, a rival rapper flaunted the distinctive necklace on social media – leaving Smoke Dawg and Douglas furious.
On Canada Day night 2018, Smoke Dawg – Jahvante Smart – was shot and killed along with his manager on Queen Street West in a murder that shocked the town and sent ripples through his hip-hop community. The murder of Smoke Dawg, on a crowded street in daylight, brought a sudden end to the career of one of Toronto rap’s brightest young stars shortly after the 21-year-old returned after playing overseas with Drake. Earlier this year, Abdulkadhir Handule was convicted of two counts of second degree murder. He is serving a life sentence.
The Crown alleges Douglas was left angry, devastated and sought revenge against Lewis for humiliating his brother months before his murder.
The two-week trial featured fireworks as he heard testimony from the girlfriend of Lewis, who was pregnant when she saw the father of her unborn baby shot dead in the bustling lakeside park opposite the CNE’s Princes’ Gates.
An exasperated Emily Chamberlain, 28, exploded when defense barrister Richard Posner accused her of lying about what happened. Chamberlain, the key Crown witness, testified that a man called « Andrew » approached Lewis, who was seated at a picnic table, and Lewis got up and followed him.
« Michael knew something big was going to happen, » she said. “I’ve never seen Michael look like that. He was scared. »
She wasn’t looking at the two men, who were talking briefly, but turned when she heard gunshots.
She testified that she saw Lewis cover his face and heard him say « no » while he was on the ground and helpless before the shooter fired two final shots at him in the head. The shooter then looked directly at her, with a « blank expression », she said.
Douglas’ attorney, Posner, called it incredible that she did not watch the two men all the time; Chamberlain testifying on zoom, addressed the jurors directly.
« What I saw was a man in a gray sweater standing over my daughter’s father…with a gun and the shot went off…and I was there with the father of my daughter on the ground as he died. »
Douglas’ version was radically different. He testified he had no problem with the victim before they got into an altercation after Lewis asked him to leave the barbecue. He had known Lewis since he was 10; they grew up in the same neighborhood.
Douglas testified that he saw Lewis reach for a gun in his belt and grab it.
He said he shot Lewis as they fought and Lewis tried to retrieve the gun. After shooting Lewis until he stopped firing back, he told the jury he fled and threw the gun in a dumpster.
What is not disputed at trial is that Douglas fired six shots, hitting Lewis in the shoulder, torso and twice in the head at close range. Douglas was not injured.
“Were you scared for your life when you put two bullets in the head of Michael Lewis? Crown prosecutor Karen Simone asked in cross-examination.
He replied, « I was scared for my life the whole altercation…I did what I had to do to survive. »
Douglas testified that he did not know where he shot Lewis, adding that it all happened quickly, he was angry, his life flashed before his eyes and his vision was blurry.
The Crown says Douglas had a deliberate plan to kill Lewis in the park that day and had no other reason to be at the barbecue.
Prosecutors did not suggest that Douglas believed Lewis was responsible for his brother’s death; Douglas testified that he did not know at that time in 2018 who killed Smart.
For months, Smart had proudly worn Lewis’ chain in music videos, on social media and in her personal life, Simone told the jury during her closing speech.
Douglas testified that he and another of his brothers confronted Smart about the chain in late 2016 or early 2017. Smart told him it was a gift from a daughter and at the time, Douglas did not pursue the conversation further. (An agreed statement of facts said Smart had nothing to do with the Lewis chain theft.)
Still, Lewis wanted his chain back. « It was his pride, » testified his girlfriend Chamberlain.
On March 27, 2017, Lewis pushed the rapper and grabbed the chain around his neck at a Toronto weed store. Smart had just returned from opening for Drake on the European leg of his Boy Meets World tour.
For reasons that remained unclear, Lewis then gave the channel to a rival rapper named Vanauley Stacks from Alexandra Park — a west Toronto neighborhood with a long-standing rivalry with Regent Park.
With the chain hanging from his neck, Stacks wasted no time posting content on social media mocking Smart. The public humiliation lasted for months, the prosecutor said. « That channel was a big deal, » she said.
Lewis knew his move was dangerous and changed his routine to avoid coming downtown, Chamberlain said.
It was proof that he believed Smoke Dawg and Douglas knew he took the chain, Simone argued.
Douglas admitted on the stand that he was upset on behalf of his brother – one of his eight siblings – who felt disrespected by Stacks. But he claimed his brother told him he didn’t know who stole the chain. Douglas claimed he never suspected Lewis – because Stacks came from a rival region of Regent Park.
« I wouldn’t have thought that (the two men) would have a relationship with each other, » he said.
Prosecutor Simone said Douglas was still reeling from his brother’s murder and enraged by the on-chain episode.
Posner told the jury they shouldn’t place any weight on that theory. Vanauley Stacks was « nobody », while Smart was on the world stage with Drake. And why would Douglas wait for revenge 18 months after the disrespectful social media videos?
The defense attorney also derided the prosecution’s claim that Smart saw Lewis remove the chain from his neck when Douglas testified that his brother told him he didn’t know who had it taken, and that there was no evidence to the contrary.
Plus, Douglas didn’t know Lewis would be at the barbecue. And why, after parking in an underground car park not far from the park, did he spray himself with YSL cologne?
Posner asked, does someone with murderous intent need to smell good?
Douglas’ barbecue outfit also sparked strong disagreement in court.
Prosecutors argued that the reason Douglas wore his hoodie on a hot 30C day was that he was trying to conceal his identity. Simone asked jurors to reject his testimony that he was in « Regent Park » fashion. While Douglas may not have been dressed for the weather by downtown Toronto standards, wearing a hoodie is a downtown hipster look, Posner countered.
Simone said Douglas knew Lewis would be at the barbecue since it was the ninth memorial barbecue Lewis had helped organize for Kamal Hercules, who was shot and killed downtown in 2009.
Lewis had been there all afternoon when Douglas arrived with three men.
The weapon used in the shooting was never found.
The Crown said Douglas had it; the defense insisted that Lewis, paranoid about seizing the chain, was armed.
Simone asked the jury to consider this: That day, Lewis stocked up at Costco, took his two young children and three-year-old pregnant girlfriend to the park where they set up folding camping chairs. In his shorts pocket were his camera lens cover, lip balm, and cell phone.
« The last song I remember playing was ‘I’m Gonna Miss You,’ by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, » Chamberlain said.
The mood was upbeat until Douglas and three other men arrived, she said. Lewis would be dead six minutes later.
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