London celebrations

Anniversary homicide: Guilty of second degree murder in fatal stabbings

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A London man faces a life sentence after being found guilty on Tuesday night of the stabbing death of a stranger during a fight in the city centre.

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Robert Ashley Williams, 39, was convicted of second degree murder in the death of Derek Szaflarski, 27, a London fitness trainer who died of a stab wound to the heart on May 26, 2018.

The jury began deliberations shortly after 4 p.m., following the final instructions from Superior Court Judge Michael McArthur and, earlier, closing arguments from the Crown and defense.

McArthur told the jury they had three possible verdicts: guilty of second degree murder, guilty of manslaughter or not guilty.

The verdict was delivered shortly before 8 p.m., just after the jury had finished its hour-long dinner break.

Second degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for at least 10 years. The members of the jury were asked to make recommendations on the length of the parole ineligibility period.

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Eligibility for parole will be decided at a sentencing hearing at a later date.

Szaflarski was partying that night with friends to celebrate his birthday. Just after the bars closed, he and Williams got into a brief but deadly scuffle in the lobby of a Richmond Row business stemming from what was described by the Crown as a ‘jaywalking, road-rage’ incident. .

Williams, who was driving south on Richmond Street, had yelled at Szaflarski and two companions when they wandered past his car near Piccadilly Street around 2:30 a.m.

Williams, who is black, testified that as their argument escalated, he heard Szaflarski utter a racial epithet, which caused him to stop his car, get out, and walk down the west sidewalk to “tweet “Szaflarski across the street.

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Security videos from two vantage points on Richmond Street were part of the Crown brief. They showed a 10 second long showdown where Szaflarski sprinted through Richmond Street to confront Williams, followed by a brief fight.

It also showed that Williams had a knife, which he flicked to lock the blade in place before Szaflarski lunged at him. Szaflarski suffered five stab wounds, all to the upper right chest and shoulder. One was deep enough to pierce his heart.

Szaflarski returned to the east side of the street, bleeding profusely, where he collapsed and died.

Williams claimed he was acting in self-defense when he stabbed Szaflarski.

Williams walked away from the stage. He testified that he needed medical attention for his hand, which had been severed by broken glass in a storefront. However, before seeking treatment, he said he dropped off a woman who was with him and asked for help from another woman, Julie Hudson, at his apartment.

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After Williams changed clothes, he and Hudson went to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital for treatment, bypassing all hospitals in London.

He was transferred to London for surgery. He surrendered to the police four days later.

The jury did not hear from Hudson — neither the Crown nor the defense called her as a witness at Williams’ trial — and were unaware that she pleaded guilty in January 2021 to obstruction of justice for hiding evidence. She then received a suspended sentence.

Hudson had driven Williams’ white Nissan to Dungannon, near Goderich, and burned Williams’ t-shirt and jeans in a burn pit behind the property.

None of these details were part of the trial evidence. Williams testified that he did not know what happened to his car and his clothes.

A sentencing date will be set at a trial court.

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