After a career of advocating for the criminally accused, Warren Skinner finds himself searching for those responsible for his own son’s murder.
In addition to a large cash reward, Skinner and his family are appealing to the consciences of the passengers in the SUV that ran over his son Christopher in downtown Toronto last fall in the hopes they can entice the killer - or killers - out of hiding.
“I’m trying to push the other people in the vehicle to understand we need some closure,” he says.
Still, Skinner says he clings to his faith in the justice system he has always embraced to ultimately deliver a measure of solace.
For a criminal defence lawyer, of course, it’s one thing to champion a client’s rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. But it can be much more difficult when dealing with the murder of a loved one when raw emotion overwhelms personal philosophy. Skinner, however, says those responsible for Christopher’s murder deserve their day in court.
“If I did not feel that way, I think I’d have to stop practising criminal law,” says Skinner, who had hoped to eventually pass his Newmarket, Ont., practice on to his son.
Christopher had left his sister’s birthday party in Toronto’s Entertainment District last October when he got into an altercation with the occupants of a black SUV.
Police speculated that the 27-year-old’s hand had come into contact with the vehicle as he tried to hail a cab.
Three or four men got out of the vehicle, knocked Christopher to the ground, and kicked him.
According to police, the driver then intentionally drove over the man with both the front and back wheels.
In a search for witnesses, police offered a $50,000 incentive backed up by an additional $25,000 raised by the Skinner family, their friends, and colleagues.
Last week, the Skinners again announced a boost to the reward, bringing the total up to $100,000.
“The message doesn’t change. We know that there were two or three people in that SUV that weren’t driving,” Skinner says.
“Just because you’re in a car doesn’t make you guilty of a criminal offence.”
Still, he acknowledges the apprehension a person might feel in turning in a close friend or family member.
But he wants potential witnesses to also understand what the Skinner family is going through.
“It isn’t getting any easier,” he says. “You wake up, and the first thing you think about is, ‘Another day to get through.’”
Adding to their grief is the fact that Christopher, who was described at his funeral as a “collector of friends,” was a much-loved person with a bright future cut short.
“There weren’t too many people who didn’t like him,” Skinner says. “He just loved life.”
Christopher had graduated from Ryerson University with a graphic-design degree but had settled on a career change. He wanted to go to law school.
Shortly before he was killed, Christopher had taken the LSAT.
His father describes him as outgoing, creative, and unafraid to speak in public.
“I would have thought he would have made a fairly good litigator,” Skinner says.
Now he anticipates the long process of prosecuting the murder of his son.
“I’m hoping we have to go through that,” he says. “I think we owe it to Christopher to see that there is some justice done.”
In the meantime, he says donations are still needed to meet the reward obligations.
A substantial portion of the money raised has come from lawyers, particularly in York Region, Skinner says.
Fellow Newmarket lawyer Daniel Monteith, for example, has helped campaign for money from the legal community.
“I’ve got four kids myself and I was just so overwhelmed by the tragedy of it,” Monteith says.
Contributions to the family’s reward fund can be made by sending a cheque or money order to Warren Skinner in Trust at 195 Main St. S., Newmarket, Ont., L3Y 3Y9.