First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial by Kayla Hounsell

[dropcap]Who [/dropcap]doesn’t like a good courtroom drama? From Perry Mason to Matlock to Law & Order, tense courtroom stories have always been popular. No two are truly alike. Add in the fact that it is a true crime drama, and you have a story that is all the more realistic. This is where a book like Kayla Hounsell’s First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial really excels. Ms. Hounsell is currently CBC’s National Reporter for the Maritimes and while she covered the trial, she hadn’t considered writing a book about it until a stranger (who would become the book’s editor) emailed her with the idea. Many would be more interested in going to view website information about the legal representation, but this story ended up capturing a different kind of interest. The result is an extremely interesting and dramatic recounting of the story of two Dalhousie med students, Willam Sandeson and Taylor Samson, the murder victim. It is also a world of drugs, primarily marijuana, and the desire for the “big score” the deal that will pay off debts and (if you believe Mr. Sandeson) allow him to get out of dealing before school starts in the fall. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”Greg Marquis, author of Truth & Honour” link=”” color=”#751717″ class=”” size=””]”A rare Canadian look at the intersection of campus life, drugs and murder.” [/perfectpullquote] Ms. Hounsell succinctly describes the case that Mr. Sandeson’s lawyer, Brad Sarson is about to take on:

Sarson could not have picked a more high-profile, labour-intensive case in Nova Scotia – a case which would eventually involve surprise witnesses, calls for a mistrial, and a private investigator who would end up working against the team that hired him. It was a trial that involved society’s most desirable cohort – people who were young, attractive, and from all appearances, headed for success.

A turning point in the trial comes when the defence calls for a mistrial. Judge Arnold is not amused: “The clumsy sequence of events in this case cannot help but result in confusion in the community as well as the skepticism about the efficacy of the jury system,” he explained. “The importance of the public’s confidence in the Canadian jury system cannot be overstated. This public trust, respect, and acceptance if eroded will be at great cost to the effective operation of the criminal justice system.”

A mistrial was denied.

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Ms. Hounsell is to be credited with keeping all facts to the forefront and avoiding any speculation or the embellishing of personalities and events. She lets the story tell itself, and she has done a wonderful job of collating the various police and family interviews, testimonies and courtroom proceedings to make the entire book flow very nicely. If you like true crime, then you’ll enjoy First Degree. Added to the “Summer Reads” list and it will appear on the 2020 long list for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.

First Degree was nominated for the 2019 Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-fiction).

First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial
Nimbus Publishing

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.

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