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This was not a routine car accident.

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But it looked like one to drivers along Islington Ave. at Dixon Rd. on Dec. 12, 2018. That is, until two men were seen running from the vehicle.

Witnesses found the man behind the wheel had been shot and efforts to save him were unsuccessful. Jonny Gayle became the 93rd murder of that year. It was a senseless slaying of an innocent man.

It was quickly determined the 29-year-old TSN producer was slain by two killers whom he met on his way home to Oshawa from a prayer meeting with his pastor.

“It’s a sad case,” Toronto Police Chief Jim Ramer said. “Jonathan was in the wrong place at the wrong time and there was no evidence of a relationship between the victim and the two accused.”

This was a real whodunit initially. All police had to go on was that two men were seen fleeing the scene. But in their haste to escape, the killers made mistakes.

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“We got to work and started talking to witnesses and banging on doors,” said Det.-Sgt. Terry Browne, a veteran of almost two decades in the Homicide Squad.

D/Sgt.  Terry Browne, Toronto Police Homicide Squad during a press conference with updates on their investigation into the Danforth shooting on Friday, June 21, 2019. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
D/Sgt. Terry Browne, Toronto Police Homicide Squad during a press conference with updates on their investigation into the Danforth shooting on Friday, June 21, 2019. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)

The first mistake the killers made was going into an apartment building adjacent to the shooting scene.

“We immediately started doing a canvas of videos in the area,” said Browne.

Police followed the trail of the two men to a nearby building that had cameras outside, in the lobby, the hallways, the elevator and parking garage.

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The investigation was on and persons of interest were identified. When clothes were being changed or evidence was being hidden, police were able to see it on security cameras.

“But there was a lot more work to do,” said Browne.

Toronto police are investigating after a man was found shot to death inside a car that crashed into a tree along Islington Ave. near Dixon Rd. on Wednesday evening.  (Victor Biro photo)
Toronto police are investigating after a man was found shot to death inside a car that crashed into a tree along Islington Ave. near Dixon Rd. on Wednesday evening. (Victor Biro photo)

Enter 23 division detectives, forensic officers, the Center of Forensic Sciences and “numerous other support units,” including special assistance from Ontario’s family and witness support expert Tamica Charles and her team, whom Browne said were “important unsung heroes” offering “updates, comfort and all the things that allow us as investigators to do what we do.”

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This family was devastated. So was his big circle of friends from church as well as the sporting and media world — of which he was a rising star.

“We never met anybody who didn’t think the world of him,” said Browne.

It’s unclear if this was a carjacking that turned deadly or a robbery that went bad, but his family believes the “generous” Jonny offered the young men a lift before being forced to drive at gunpoint. It is believed he was able to fend off one attacker but the other fired a handgun and killed Gayle.

Grace Gayle and her son Jonathan, at the Raptors game on Grace's birthday, Feb. 22, 2017.
Grace Gayle and her son Jonathan, at the Raptors game on Grace’s birthday, Feb. 22, 2017. Photo by SUPPLIED /FAMILIA

Using modern investigation techniques, investigators were able to draw a digital map of the killers’ escape path and learn a great deal about them. But even police were surprised by what they discovered during a search of the building where the killers lived.

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“In the parking garage officers looked under a pile of wood and found a gun that has been stashed,” said Browne.

After testing the firearm, not only was this gun determined to have been used in the shooting that killed Gayle, there was also a finger print found.

Police then moved in and arrested Samir Adem and Salman Ahmed on Feb. 20, 2019.

In an emotional trial, neither accused, now 22, took the stand in their own defence. But the Crown’s case presented by Paul Zambonini and Michael Townsend was so compelling that a jury found both guilty of second-degree murder after 10 hours of deliberation.

“It was an extensive, thorough investigation which resulted in both suspects being charged and both later convicted,” said Ramer.

This was no accident.

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