Thirteen years after Vic Fraser’s murder in Surrey, family and friends of the popular trucker broke down in tears and hugged one another Friday after hearing Gary Donald Johnston had been convicted of second-degree murder.
Johnston, bearded with a pony tail, stood and nodded at Supreme Court Justice Robert Crawford after hearing the decision and was led back into custody.
“I can’t think of a word right now,” Vic’s tearful sister Jeanie said outside the courthouse in New Westminster. “Thankful. I just feel thankful and blessed.
“Justice has been served,” she said, noting she and Vic’s family and friends had waited 4,745 days for that justice. “It’s been a long haul.”
Victor Fraser was killed March 10, 1998 after walking in on Gary Johnston, who was robbing Jeanie’s house in the Bridgeview neighbourhood of Surrey.
Johnston wasn’t charged until 2009.
During testimony during the month-long trial that began in March, the Crown contended that on the day of the murder, Johnston rode a bike to Jeanie’s home in the rain. He knew Jeanie and her home well as he had lived next door to her.
Vic Fraser interrupted the robbery, the Crown said, showing up while Johnston was gathering items to steal. The two men had met before and greeted one another, but Johnston grew concerned that Vic would become suspicious.
So he went behind him, grabbed serrated knives from the kitchen counter and stabbed him several times in the neck, breaking the blades off the handles in the process. Fraser also had broken ribs and a pot broken over his head.
He later phoned his brother and burned the clothes he wore during the murder.
The Crown called three witnesses who testified Johnston confessed to the murder: his brother Mike, acquaintance Rick Smith from Saskatchewan, and a police officer who posed as a crime boss in an undercover operation.
The defence did not call any evidence, but argued some of the witnesses were disreputable.
In reading his oral decision Friday morning, Justice Crawford said he agreed “they are patently unsavoury characters,” referring to Mike Johnston, a drug user with mental health issues, and Rick Smith, who was convicted along with Gary Johnston for a separate murder in Regina.
Crawford said he believed Smith’s testimony that he was afraid of Gary, determining Smith was interested in seeing him stay behind bars for his own safety.
“I place little weight on his evidence,” said the justice.
As for Mike Johnston, Crawford said while the brother’s memory was lacking some of the time, Mike was very clear about many details.
He may have been “unkempt” and uncertain of his memories, said Crawford, “but I found him truthful in court.”
Also shown during the trial was video footage of Johnston’s conversations with a police officer posing as an undercover crime boss in 2009.
A hidden camera in a Montreal hotel room captured Johnston describing how he was robbing Jeanie’s home when Vic showed up. The video shows him standing up, gesturing with both arms how he stabbed him in the neck and how he proceeded to kick his victim when he fell to the floor.
Justice Crawford said although Johnston exaggerated the details of the murder – he said he used four knives instead of two – he called the confession accurate and freely given.
“As he acted out what happened, it makes the video statement compelling evidence against him,” Crawford said, ruling he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnston killed Fraser.
About a half-dozen crane truck operators showed up at the courthouse, saluting Fraser, their former co-worker.
“Thirteen years later and we’ve got all these truck drivers out again. What a tribute to Vic,” beamed Jeanie Fraser.
Johnston will be sentenced at a later date.