Tensions excessive when alleged Montreal Mafia member realized he was goal of hit

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Antonio Vanelli was attending a funeral for an organized crime figure when innocent victim was shot at a café in 2016.

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Paul Cherry Montreal Gazette

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There was tension in the air when Montreal police approached alleged Montreal Mafia member Antonio Vanelli to inform him he was the intended target of an organized crime hit that resulted in the death of an innocent man.

On June 2, 2016, someone shot Angelo D’Onofrio at the Hillside café on Fleury St. in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough. The 72-year-old homicide victim was not known to police, and according to evidence presented at the ongoing murder trial of Joubens Jeff Theus, 27, it took the Montreal police little time to theorize that Vanelli was the target in what police believe was a failed hit.

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On Wednesday, Montreal police Det-Sgt. Ian Riddle testified at Theus’s trial and described how he and his partner, Det-Sgt. Denis Hogg, were assigned the task of tracking down Vanelli to inform him that his life was in danger.

Riddle recalled how, at the time, the Montreal police Brotherhood was using pressure tactics and even homicide detectives were asked to wear jeans to highlight the union’s cause. Riddle also noted that he and Hogg arrived at Vanelli’s residence — at around midnight the same day D’Onofrio was killed — in an old minivan that had nothing on the outside to indicate it was a police vehicle.

Riddle said that when he and Hogg arrived at Vanelli’s home, they exited their minivan and they were quickly “high-beamed” by a sports utility vehicle that approached them.

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“I decided very quickly to identify both of us as police officers,” Riddle said, before noting that Vanelli was inside the vehicle accompanied by “three or four other individuals.”

“What was the climate like?” prosecutor Éric de Champlain asked.

“It was a bit tense,” Riddle said. “But the tension dropped fast (when Vanelli realized they were police detectives).”

Riddle appeared to be limited in what he could tell the jury as he was not asked to explain why he was able to give Vanelli the very clear message that he was the one who was supposed to have been shot, not D’Onofrio. Riddle repeated the message twice for the jury and it contained no nuances or conditionals.

“We said he was the victim targeted,” Riddle said.

After the detective left the witness stand, Superior Court Justice Daniel Royer informed the jury that Riddle’s testimony about the message he delivered to Vanelli was hearsay and therefore could not be considered as evidence that Vanelli was the one who was supposed to have been shot. He explained that Riddle was called as a Crown witness to show how tense things were for Vanelli at the time.

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Earlier in the trial, the Crown submitted a written statement, prepared by Francis Derome, a Montreal police expert in organized crime, who wrote that at the time D’Onofrio was killed, “a climate of tension reigned over Italian organized crime in Montreal. At the time, murders and acts of violence were committed in connection with this climate of tension. Mr. Antonio Vanelli is a member of Italian organized crime in Montreal.”

Derome noted that on the day of the shooting, Vanelli had attended the funeral of another man who police considered to have been “a member of Italian organized crime n Montreal.”

Vanelli also supplied a written statement for the trial instead of testifying, and confirmed that before D’Onofrio was shot, he was at the café, but left to attend the funeral. He left his white Range Rover parked near the café when he left.

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Vanelli also wrote that he went to the café on a regular basis.

After Riddle testified, prosecutor Katerine Brabant announced that the Crown has finished presenting its evidence. Royer then informed the jury that Theus’s lawyers will decide over the weekend whether they will present a defence. The judge said he will allow the defence attorneys several days to consider the option because the trial was altered significantly on Monday when a co-accused, Ebamba Ndutu Lufiau, 30, asked to have a separate trial for health reasons.

The trial will resume on Monday.

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An earlier version of this story reversed the name of the accused in an ongoing murder trial with the name of a co-accused in the same case who, earlier this week, asked to have a separate trial for health reasons. The Montreal Gazette regrets the error.

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