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Toronto pair who fled to Hungary after botched ambush found guilty of murder, attempted murder

A Hamilton jury has found Oliver Karafa and Lucy Li guilty of first-degree murder of Tyler Pratt and attempted murder of his partner Jordyn Romano in 2021.

'My scars are a daily reminder I survived what was meant to destroy me,' said victim Jordyn Romano

This collage features two people: one blonde man and one brunette woman taking a selfie with a phone.

A Hamilton jury has found Oliver Karafa and Lucy Li guilty of first-degree murder of Tyler Pratt and attempted murder of his partner, Jordyn Romano, in 2021.

Cheers erupted in the courtroom when the jury confirmed its verdicts from Romano's friends and family, as well as Pratt's parents and sister. Romano sobbed, giving her mother a long hug.

"Bye, Lucy," Romano shouted as Li was led out.

Neither Karafa nor Li showed emotion as they learned the verdict or were sentenced. The Toronto residents stood at separate desks with their defence lawyers, the courtroom behind them packed with police officers, court staff and spectators watching the end of the seven-week trial.

The jury reached their verdict after less than a day of deliberations.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years — the sentence imposed by Superior Court Justice Harrison Arrell. He described their Karafa and Li's actions as "the most heinous crimes of violence" noting that Pratt and Romano were unarmed, unsuspecting victims.

"It's difficult to image a more calculated and planned murder than the one carried out by these two people," Arrell said.

The two couples were friends and business partners when Karafa and Li, who lived in Toronto, lured Pratt, 39, and Romano, 26, to a Stoney Creek, Ont., warehouse in February 2021 under the guise of a cannabis-growing business opportunity.

Pratt, a father of two young children, flew in from Vancouver for the meeting, also hoping Karafa would pay him back millions of dollars supposedly earned through other investments.

But Karafa, then 28, and Li, then 25, didn't have Pratt's money and actually planned to kill them.

They succeeded in murdering Pratt, but Romano — who was shot in the chest — managed to survive, crawling to the road and flagging down help. She was 13-weeks pregnant at the time and the fetus did not survive.

The jury reached their verdict after a seven-week trial that closed with Karafa admitting through his lawyer, Peter Zudak, to firing as many as nine shots at Pratt and Romano.

But Zudak argued Karafa had no plan leading up to the shooting, or had created one that was so poorly orchestrated it didn't meet the threshold for first-degree murder.

Zudak said Karafa should be found guilty of second-degree murder of Pratt and not guilty for the attempted murder of Romano.

Li's lawyer Liam O'Connor argued she was naive and had no idea Karafa was going to kill anyone, so she should be found not guilty of first-degree murder or attempted murder.

She was finally standing up for herself in court after years of Karafa manipulating her, O'Connor said.

Crown attorney Mark Dean, however, proved Karafa and Li created and carried out an intricate murder plot that ultimately fell apart when Romano survived.

The murder plot

Karafa and Li first met Pratt and Romano in 2020, the jury heard during the trial.

Pratt was an international drug dealer living a lavish lifestyle while Karafa was also a criminal entrepreneur with several schemes on the go.

Pratt invested roughly half-a-million dollars into a personal protective equipment venture run by Karafa at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was waiting on his returns, the jury heard.

Karafa and Li didn't have the money yet, so they created various stall tactics and started planning the shooting, the Crown said.

In the lead up, Karafa and Li arranged to switch Li's SIM card with a friend who had stay at their Toronto condo around the time of the shooting.

They told their friend, who testified during the trial, that they were going to a secret business meeting not even their family could know about and said he should pretend to be Li.

Prosecutors say it was to create a "digital alibi" so if police were to track their phone calls and texts, it would show them far away from the warehouse, Dean said.

The jury also heard Karafa had plans to sell two vehicles, including an Audi he bought from a friend's mom and Romano's Range Rover, leading up to the shooting.

They used the Audi to drive to the warehouse and then got rid of it and Romano's vehicle after attempting to kill her, the Crown said.

How the shooting played out

The plan went into action on the evening of Feb. 28, 2021.

The couples gathered at the warehouse, under the pretence of waiting for a real estate agent to meet them.

Romano, who took the stand during the trial, said she was sitting in her Range Rover with Li to warm up. Li, seeming nervous, got out of the car and cleared the way for Karafa to shoot Romano in the chest.

Karafa then shot Pratt, who was standing nearby, multiple times, killing him.

Karafa and Li left in Romano's Range Rover to ensure nobody had heard the gunshots. When the coast was clear, they returned only to find Romano had disappeared.

Surveillance footage shows the Range Rover circling the area, with Li visible in one of the shots. They were "hunting" Romano, Dean said.

"After a full hour they decided to cut their losses," Dean said. "What are the chances she crawls all the way from the back to the front of the parking lot, in the dead of winter, and finds life-saving treatment?"

But that's exactly what Romano did.

When Karafa and Li found out she'd survived, they fled to Europe.

They were eventually arrested in Hungary a few months later and extradited back to Canada, making international headlines at the time.

Victim woke from coma, 'remembered everything'

After being shot, Romano fought for her life in the hospital, she told the court Friday in a victim impact statement.

She was in a coma for three days but woke up and "remembered everything."

"My desire to speak the truth was strong," Romano said, who was an integral part of the Crown's case against Li and Karafa.

Her physical and mental recovery is ongoing, she said. She suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and nerve damage.

"My scars are a daily reminder I survived what was meant to destroy me," she said.

Pratt's family, from Taylor, B.C., described him in court as a loving, protective father, brother and son in their victim impact statements.

"We made so many beautiful memories together," said Pratt's step mother Carrie Doyle. "Whatever Tyler put his mind to, he did so well from the time he was small."

Pratt's sister Quiann Bulmer said the last time she saw him — weeks before he was murdered — he was excited for a new business with Li and Karafa, who he thought were the "great friends he'd made along the way."

She was eager to get an update from Pratt, when she instead got a call for their father that her "funny, protective brother" had been killed.

"He was so loved," Bulmer said. "Nothing will ever be the same."

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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