Convicted Killer Headed Back to Law School

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As you know, prospective lawyers are required to go through a “good character” evaluation before being admitted to the bar. Not to say that every lawyer therefore has “good character,” but the bar does try to do a little weeding. There is no bright-line rule excluding applicants just because they once stabbed a guy 33 times, but still some are questioning whether the University of British Columbia should have given one of its spaces to Sasan Ansari.

At the very least, maybe it should reconsider the scholarship.

According to the appellate decision, Ansari was convicted of killing Joshua Goos in 2006. Ansari owed Goos something like $90,000, money that Ansari later claimed he didn’t want but had taken so he could have “peace of mind” while he went to law school. There was evidence that the money was to be used for an investment in some “overseas trading” Ansari was doing, which he claimed had to do with a contract for the sale of sugar from Brazil to Iran. (This is the kind of thing I did all the time to put myself through law school, so I see nothing suspicious about it.) By May 2006, Goos wanted his money back, and sent text messages to Ansari saying he wanted to get paid at an upcoming meeting or next time he would “not be coming alone.” Unfortunately for him, though, this time he did come alone.

The two met in a car in the parking lot of a Vancouver country club, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that the lot was covered by surveillance cameras. Ansari later claimed that Goos threatened him with a knife but that he was able to disarm Goos, which was the last thing he said he remembered. So he did not remember stabbing Goos repeatedly, chasing him out of the car, catching him and possibly stabbing him some more, moving the body, driving to his brother’s house, cleaning up, ditching the murder weapon and bloody clothes, and sending fake text messages to the victim’s cell phone in an obvious attempt to set up an alibi. He was charged with second-degree murder, and relied mainly on the defense of “automatism,” which I assume is Canadian for “didn’t know what I was doing.” The jury convicted him of manslaughter.

To some extent, therefore, it must have bought his story, but it is still surprising that Ansari was sentenced to only five years in prison, a little over two months per stab. The judge noted the evidence that Ansari had been under great stress, but did not buy the claim he was in a “dissociative state.” While this was a “culpable homicide,” Ansari had no previous criminal record. Also, the judge noted, while awaiting his murder trial Ansari had completed his first two years of law school at UBC, and “I am advised he is among the top students there.” The five-year sentence was affirmed on appeal.

But Ansari was paroled after only two years. Last month, that parole was extended, partly because Ansari had been “accepted back to law school and will resume classes in September 2011.” Mr. Goos’ family – and most likely some students at UBC – are quite disturbed by this. So is Govin Rooptra, a scholarship donor who said in a letter to the family that he had been “staggered” to learn Ansari had been awarded $1,000 in Rooptra’s name while awaiting trial (evidently due to the lack of a no-stabbings condition on the funds).

The university says it has no legal basis to prevent a student with a criminal record from attending the law school, and maybe that’s true. Seems like schools do exercise discretion as to who they admit, though, or at least some did in my case, and I hadn’t stabbed anybody at all (that I remember). Also, there is some question, I would think, as to whether someone who killed his partner in a questionable business deal would have the “fitness and good character” necessary for bar admission. The parole board did find that Ansari presents a “low risk or low-moderate risk for future violence,” but also noted that he continues to exhibit “a victim stance, a sense of entitlement and [an] anti-authority attitude,” does not like to be criticized, and can sometimes be “argumentative and challenging.”

Also, he stabbed a guy 33 times.

The Law Society of British Columbia would not comment on the case specifically, but did say that any case that involved a serious criminal conviction would be considered “very carefully.”