CALGARY — A Calgary jury has found a man and a woman guilty of all charges related to a 2017 quadruple homicide that stemmed from a kidnap-for-ransom plot, but an aunt of two of the victims says she's still struggling to make sense of what happened.
Yu Chieh Liao, who also goes by the first name Diana, and Tewodros Kebede were convicted Thursday of first-degree murder in the death of 26-year-old Hanock Afowerk.
Liao was also found guilty of being an accessory in the deaths of Cody Pfeiffer, 25, Glynnis Fox, 36, and Tiffany Ear, 39.
Kebede was also convicted of being an accessory in the death of Pfeiffer, who jurors heard may have been asked to help dump Afowerk's body.
The jury heard that Fox and Ear, sisters from the Stoney Nakoda Nation, were living in the same apartment as Pfeiffer.
"It hit my heart and I think it hit the heart of Calgary also," Cynthia Hunter, Fox and Ear's aunt, said after the verdict.
"It was senseless. They were young, all of them. To hear the 'guilty guilty guilty,' — I'm happy and yet I'm broken hearted because it's not going to bring my nieces back."
Hunter said the sisters leave behind 16 children between them, and that they loved to travel and do fun things as a family, like celebrate Halloween.
"They were hard workers. They were brilliant. They did anything and everything together."
Court heard that Afowerk, a petty criminal who made fake identification, was kidnapped, held for ransom, tortured and killed when he was no longer of any use.
Liao and Kebede went to the home of a friend with whom Afowerk was living on the night of July 9, 2017, in order to retrieve ransom they thought would be there.
The Crown argued that Afowerk was being held against his will at an auto body shop and lied to his captors about having the money.
"He wanted his ordeal to come to an end, but really there was no way out," Crown prosecutor Brian Holtby said during closing arguments.
An autopsy determined that he died from blows to the head, but he was also shot three times and there were signs that his neck had been compressed.
The bodies of Pfeiffer, Fox and Ear were found shot to death at a suburban construction site inside Afowerk's burned-out car early on July 10, 2017.
Jurors heard it's believed the three were killed because they were witnesses.
But no one has been charged with killing them.
Two days after the three were found dead in his burned Chevy Cruze, Afowerk's remains were discovered by a rural highway west of the city.
Jurors deliberated for nearly three days and more than 70 Crown witnesses testified during the six-week trial, which Holtby described as a "journey into the heart of darkness."
"I have a lot of respect for all juries and I wasn't surprised that they were taking that long to go through the evidence. It was very complicated," Holtby said after the verdict.
"There's obviously three murders where no charges have been laid yet. I know police are continuing to investigate those and I hope some day that charges will be laid in respect to those as well."
Much of the prosecution's case rested on the locations of the accused's cellphones.
The jury heard multiple people besides the accused were also involved in the deaths.
Lawyers for the accused said that the Crown's case had major gaps and did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt what happened.
Liao's lawyer, Susan Karpa, argued that the evidence pointed away from her client and toward her co-accused.
Liao glanced at family in the courtroom before and after the verdict. Kebede bowed his head.
The case is back in court on Jan. 10 to set a date for sentencing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2019.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story; an earlier version had an incorrect sequence of events