An offhand remark between strangers set in motion a violent confrontation that minutes later left a Winnipeg lawyer dying in the middle of a West End street, jurors heard Monday.
Justin Silicz, 32, died June 2, 2019, after he was stabbed walking to his car from an after-hours club with friends.
Twenty-one-year-old Keishawn Mitchell admits stabbing Silicz but has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
Andrea Bosnjak testified she and Silicz, who she had dated two or three times, and Silicz’s friend, Tony Hajzler, were walking back to Silicz’s car when she saw a group of three men walking about 30 feet ahead of them on Winnipeg Avenue.
Bosnjak said one of the men yelled out to ask if any of them had a cigarette.
"I said something along the lines of, ‘Yes, tell me a joke.’ Someone replied, ‘Your ass is a joke,’" Bosnjak told jurors. "I was offended and I wasn’t going to give them a smoke."
When Hajzler called the men out for being rude, one of them yelled back: "What are you going to do about it?" Bosnjak said.
"He said it probably ten times... The more he repeated it, the more it sounded aggressive," Bosnjak said.
The man advanced on Hajzler as Silicz tried to "de-escalate" the situation, Bosnjak said.
"Justin was like, ‘We aren’t trying to fight you, we are just trying to get home,’" she said.
The man threw a punch Bosnjak said she believed was intended for Hajzler but instead connected with Silicz. The two men traded three or four punches before Silicz fell to the roadway, Bosnjak said.
"He tried to get up, but lost his balance immediately and fell to the ground," she said.
As Silicz was being assaulted, his attacker’s friends casually approached Bosnjak for a cigarette, she said.
"I said, ‘This guy I am with is knocked out, get a hold of your friend,’" she said.
As the attacker and his companions walked away, Bosnjak and Hajzler tried to rouse Silicz.
"I asked him if he was OK a few times, but he wasn’t responding," Bosnjak said. It wasn’t until Hajzler tried to lift Silicz from the ground that they noticed he had been stabbed two times, once in the abdomen.
Bosnjak said she called 911 and used her shirt to apply pressure to Silicz’s wounds until police and paramedics arrived.
Neither Silicz or Hajzler gave any indication they wanted to fight their attacker, Bosnjak said.
"Justin said the opposite when he tried to de-escalate the situation," she said.
Mitchell’s "senseless escalation" of what should have been a harmless verbal exchange ended in murder, Crown attorney Amy Wood said earlier in an opening address to jurors.
"After all the evidence is seen and heard… you will know who upped the ante, you will know who stacked the deck by bringing a weapon and you will know who just wanted to go home," Wood said.
Bosnjak will return to the witness stand for cross-examination Tuesday.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.