by Lise LaSalle
On March 10th, 2014, the Canadian newspapers, especially in Ontario, were abuzz with headlines such as “Toronto panhandler loses stabbing appeal of man who refused to give cash’’ and “Panhandler loses appeal of her second-degree murder conviction.’’
The ‘Panhandler’ they are referring to in these articles is Nicole (Nyki) Kish who was charged and convicted of second-degree murder on March 1st, 2011 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 12 years in the stabbing death of Ross Hammond.
Kish was not a panhandler but a young lady who had worked hard to be able to travel and experience life on the road as many others have done at her age. She had no criminal record and was an artistic girl who loved to sing and write songs. She was also an advocate for many causes dear to her heart. At the time of the encounter with Hammond, Kish was with her boyfriend and hanging out with some transient young people exploring the wild side of life. At times, some of Kish’s companions would ask a brother to spare a dime but it was not her way of life and she was by no means a panhandler standing in the street asking for money.
Nicole has steadfastly maintained her innocence since the 2007 death of Ross Hammond after a large street brawl near the Toronto intersection of Queen and Bathurst. In fact, the scene of the ‘crime’ was such a melee that despite all of the merchants and street witnesses who were present, none of them actually saw the crime. We know that Hammond ended up dead and that the scene was very chaotic. Numerous witnesses did see Mr. Hammond with a knife in his hand, and they all stated that he was drunk, angry and very abusive the night he was killed. That is the only certainty in this case. But no one saw anyone stab him. A young man called Jeremy Woolley was also stabbed — very likely by Hammond.
Hammond was stabbed in the chest 4 or 5 times and he did not die immediately. When the police showed up, they questioned him as they waited for the ambulance. He was asked twice about the knife and both times, he answered, “No comment’’.
On the night Ross Hammond died, Nicole Kish had been in Toronto for only a day and was walking on busy Queen Street celebrating her 21st birthday with her boyfriend and other young people.
Ross Hammond and his work buddy George Dranichak were downtown that night with some of their colleagues having a drink to try to boost their morale as the company they worked for was struggling. The media referred to them as ‘Internet marketers’ and described Nicole and her friends as ‘panhandlers’. This image was pushed hard by the media and because of some recent problems Toronto the Pure had been having with panhandlers and street safety in general, they were instantly wrongly perceived. The City wanted to rid its streets of dangerous people and well-dressed jocks like Hammond and Dranichak could do no wrong.
In reality, the two men were mostly purveyors of porn, and Dranichak, who was in the country on a visa, had a history of violence in the US. It was in his best interest to avoid trouble and any negative perception from the media or the police. Thus, his account of the events was sketchy to say the least, and nonsensical at times.
On the night of Hammond’s stabbing death, he and Dranichak, who were highly intoxicated, walked to a bank machine to withdraw some cash. They were approached by a woman identified as Faith Watts who allegedly asked them for some change. At a preliminary hearing, Dranichak testified that he and Hammond made sexually derogatory remarks and asked her to perform certain sexual acts if she wanted the money. He admitted that their persistence had caused the confrontation.
During his early interrogations, Dranichak never said that she demanded $20, but two years after that fateful night, he came up with this figure in an attempt to justify their outrage and inappropriate outburst.
Watts was carrying a knife and had taken drugs that day. She quickly got into a pretty heated argument with the two men and they traded insults. Her boyfriend joined in to help her. He ended up being pushed around and then beaten unconscious and Watts admitted pulling a knife because she was afraid. Nine spots of Hammond’s DNA was found on Watt’s clothing. Kish and Watts were similar in appearance and were often confused by witnesses including Dranichak who could not distinguish between the two of them at times.
Bystanders took notice of the fight and many joined in. There were surveillance cameras along the streets but they were lost while in police custody: the footage of one was recorded over and the other was lost entirely. Detective Giroux, who was working on the case, said that by the time the evidence box where the video was placed came into his possession, the video had vanished. Justice Nordhiemer attributed the loss of the video to the “frailties of human nature.’’
The fight was in full force on both the south and north sides of the street, and some think that Dranichak was the south side combatant with Hammond on the north side one. But as Dranichak heard police sirens, he made a coward’s escape leaving his friend behind. He jumped in a cab. Behind him was a guy named Hal Amero, who was known to have been involved in 18 knife fights, and could easily have killed Hammond. Kish was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, in the middle of the melee probably trying to help and pull people away from the attacker.
Witnesses reported seeing this Hal fellow throw a knife in a drainage sewer but the police never followed up on this tip.
Because Kish was stabbed in the arm during this attack, Justice Nordheimer said that since she had been stabbed, there is an ‘’irresistible inference’’ that she must have killed Hammond. And the fact that Watts had blood from the victim on her clothes and boots was attributed to the ‘’limitations of physical evidence.’’ Although the knife belonged to Watts, Nordheimer suggested that it had changed hands three times before fatally wounding Hammond. What a strange roundabout way to avoid a straight line to the truth.
The police, the media and the Crown wanted the ‘panhandler’ case solved so that the good citizens of Toronto would feel safe again. So no one protested that strange and bizarre way of arriving at the conviction of a 21-year-old girl who just happened to be stabbed. And, this same girl stayed at the scene of the crime until the police and medical help arrived. Wouldn’t she have fled the scene like the others if she had anything to hide?
So, we might ask, how did the police end up charging Nyki Kish for this crime?
- Out of 20 witnesses, no one saw Hammond being stabbed.
- Consequently, no witness saw Kish stab Hammond.
- Kish’s blood was on the knife Ross Hammond used to stab her.
- Ross Hammond’s blood was also on the knife.
- Hammond had cuts on his hands that were bleeding profusely.
- Hammond was stabbed multiple times.
- Hammond was conscious when police arrived. He never said Kish stabbed him and on a video (this one did not vanish) he stated, ‘’No comment’’ when asked about the knife.
These are the known facts.
And with this, the Canadian police charged Nyki Kish and a Canadian Court found her guilty.
What witnesses saw
Some witnesses saw a young man while leaving the scene stopping to show another witness that he had been stabbed by lifting his shirt. He also bragged about having been stabbed in earlier fights. His image is captured on a video showed by the media. But the police never found him or did they even look for him?
A video from a nearby pasta store was used to describe or ID four “major” participants. At the same time, many other “participants” were there at the scene but for some reason these other persons are allegedly “unidentifiable”. The police did not bother to question or ID Hal Amero, the likely killer, or his brother ‘Twitch’, for that matter, the two people who were later described by three separate witnesses as being the guys who, while leaving the crime scene, stopped to chat and brag about being stabbed, and even showed the stab wound(s) to all three.
The pasta video clearly shows Hammond and proves, apparently, that he not only had no knife, but that he had not yet been stabbed.
As the judges eliminated the other suspects, and with an assist from the defence, resolved that the Watts knife was the murder weapon, they seemed to think that they proved beyond any doubt that Nyki carried the knife across the street.
Such a leap of nonsense
It was a bench trial (no jury) and you would think that a judge would have seen through this nonsense, but Kish was nonetheless found guilty of second degree murder.
The overwhelming question in this whole saga for me was why on earth didn’t Nicole Kish take the stand to tell her story? When the police first came around to question her, she was medicated and told by her family and legal aid not to say anything. When the trial came around, her lawyers told her not to testify. She wanted to tell her side of the story very badly but they insisted that she remain silent.
Fifty witnesses presented confusing and contradictory testimony on the witness stand so the last thing Nicole’s lawyers wanted was for her to testify and sound like she was not being truthful or to simply confuse the matter even more. Because they had no jury to persuade, they probably were very confident that a judge could never find her guilty on such mixed and flimsy evidence or lack thereof.
But her not testifying was perceived negatively by the family of the victim and the public at large, who believed that the only reason she did not take the stand was because she had something to hide. It must have been excruciating for her to remain silent under these circumstances but lawyers are supposed to know best.
For reasons unknown even to her own defense attorneys, Faith Watts, who owned a knife and allegedly started the whole saga, as well has having numerous spots of Hammond’s DNA on herself while Kish had only a tiny speck of blood on her shoe because she walked near the ambulance where Hammond had bled, was allowed to return to the States and was not charged.
The media had damaged the public perception of Kish’s character, and when she was out on bail, she was prohibited from speaking publicly about the case. So no one heard about who she really was and that violence is not part of her makeup. She has always been a fighter for causes but never a violent fighter. Despite the negative media coverage, Nicole’s conviction sparked a ‘’Free Nyki’’ campaign advocating her release.
As an appellant, she raised two grounds of appeal: First, that the trial judge accepted and relied on unreliable evidence by concluding that she was the female armed with a knife on the south side of the street. Second, the judge failed to consider important exculpatory evidence that could have contributed to the existence of a reasonable doubt. Most significantly, the judge did not consider the possibility that Faith Watts, Jeremy Wooley, or the unknown third man involved in the final fight could have been the stabber.
The Ontario Appeals Court declared that it is not necessary for Kish to have done the actual stabbing to convict her on the 2nd degree murder charges. The OAC says that even if Wooley had done the stabbing, Kish was convictable simply by being involved in the melee on that side of the street.
 If Wooley administered the fatal stab wounds, the appellant would still be
guilty of second degree murder as a party (to the second fight, and as the transporter of the knife).
Justice Nordheimer put together a scenario which patently does not describe (by ALL accounts) a confusing, nighttime street melee where a good number of the principals and witnesses are inebriated, including the eventual victim.
There is also “hint” in the appellate decision that their own hands were tied because the defence did not attack Nordheimer’s simplified scenario; all the defence offered, really, was that “Faith Watts may have done it.”
Odd things about the rejection of this appeal
The Pasta video is used to confirm that Hammond was not injured or armed at the time he appears in it. Nonetheless, it could logically be argued that Hammond was carrying the knife and was already bleeding from a chest wound. The video is not of high enough quality for the court to really conclude anything about Hammond.
All four judges ignored the fact that Hammond was in possession of a knife and had it with him when lying wounded on sidewalk. Watts had testified that it was her knife which she used to scare Hammond to protect her boyfriend and that Hammond took it from her. No other witnesses ever saw a girl with a knife on the north side. And the ones who saw a girl on the south side admitted they could have easily mixed the two girls up.
After testing Kish’s items five times and finding no Hammond DNA, they tried a 6th time and it was fruitful. There was a trace of Hammond’s DNA near the sole of her shoe. Meanwhile, Watts has Hammond’s DNA all over her. She also had a bite mark on her arm and when she was arrested, she head-butted a police officer. In court, the Crown claimed that Kish was the aggressive one. Watts, who had a criminal record in California with more than a dozen arrests for drugs, theft and altercations with law enforcement, and the two males, Fresh and Wooley, who had entered in Canada illegally, were deported before Kish’s trial.
If Kish is the accessory then who was she accessory to and why did they release this killer without any charges? Remember that Watts admits to owning and brandishing the knife, which in any case is too short to have caused the fatal wound, but could have caused the minor back wounds.
It seems that the review of this case involving two well-dressed men and ‘panhandlers’ fell flat on its face. Brother can you spare a Dame?
Nyki’s parents are her champions and they visit her every week. Their goal has always been to make sure that their daughter comes out of this ordeal with the least amount of damage possible and to keep some normalcy in her life. Her mother Christine reads her a lot of stuff from Facebook, she plays her songs that have been written for her, and prints a lot of pictures and art made by supporters. They spend a lot of time talking on the phone.
Nicole’s sister is 7 years old and was 6 months old when Nyki got bail and spent 3 and 1/2 years on house arrest. They are extremely close and she has been visiting her at the Kitchener prison with the rest of the family on a regular basis. They even have sleepovers right there in the prison in the private family visiting house, where they live like a regular family for three day stretches. They cook, dance, make art and sing songs, watch movies and play in the backyard.
Nyki’s friends also visit her regularly. She is lucky that her family lives only an hour away as many women prisoners rarely get visits due to distance.
When the news of the rejection of her appeal came down yesterday, her family and her supporters were devastated. Nicole will remain strong because of her family, friends and supporters, who now are ready to continue the fight in the court of public opinion and this time, Nyki will lead the parade. It’s time to turn the tide and get this Dame a break!
I feel for the tragic passing of Ross Hammond and do not want his memory in any shape or form tarnished but in my opinion, his death is as much of a mystery as Nyki’s conviction.
Excerpts from “A Message from Nyki”
So the system is more corrupt and broken than even I believed. I believed in the appeal I just lost. I have believed since the day I was charged that somewhere within the system one of the many pairs of eyes that comprise it would see what has happened and stop it. Now last night I found myself lying awake wishing that I was guilty like they say I am, terrible as it sounds because then I could at least understand. But then I let my tears out and I stopped wishing such a terrible thing…
In my frantic state on my birthday in 2007, I did not even realize that anyone had been hurt but me. I screamed and screamed for those police to come and I was so angry at them when they came and told me that I was not their priority. But I called for the police, I did not run away that night, I had no reason to.
I never spoke about that night again though. This system has told me not to for this reason or that every single day since. But now, I have no reason not to speak. There are no avenues or safeguards in the system left to hold on to. I am confronted with the reality that I am systemically abandoned.
* * * * *
I am sorry I don’t reply to all the kind and caring letters I receive and I am sorry that I have left people fight for me outside without fighting beside you in here. I lost my hope but I have again found it and I will never let it go again, to speak not just for me but against the whole insane state of the institutions of law and justice. There is no equality or justness within them.
Thank you for the continued love and support of everyone out there who care about the truth or who care for me or who care about people doing the right thing. I’ll do my best to do the right thing too from in here. And that starts by ending the silence I’ve let occur.
So much love and solidarity
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