Ex-boyfriend of murdered Winnipeg woman loses fight to toss wrongful death suit

A Manitoba judge has refused to toss out a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit against a Winnipeg man accused by his ex-girlfriend’s family of orchestrating her murder.   

Drake Moslenko, 33, is facing a civil court trial early next year in connection with claims made by Kaila Tran’s family he masterminded her June 20, 2012 killing and should be barred from claiming further life insurance proceeds held by her estate.

Moslenko was seeking what’s called a summary judgment to immediately end the family’s case against him, saying their lawsuit was “offensive, scandalous and baseless” and has “no merit whatsoever.”

However, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey has ruled there are “genuine issues” requiring a full trial in the case. It is currently set to go ahead on Jan. 27, 2020.

“It is necessary to achieve a fair and just adjudication to have this matter proceed through the trial process,” McKelvey ruled. “There exists a significant factual conflict in this complex matter,” she found.

“It is not in the interest of justice to allow this matter to move forward as a summary judgement.”

Moslenko was charged with first-degree murder a few days after Tran was stabbed more than 30 times in an ambush in the parking lot outside the St. Vital apartment she shared with Moslenko.

Treyvonne Willis, an acquaintance of his, was convicted by jury of her murder in April 2015 and is serving a prison sentence of life without a chance at parole for 25 years.

Prosecutors stayed the charge against Moslenko during his preliminary inquiry. They lost a key evidentiary ruling regarding hearsay evidence. 

Members of Tran’s family fought and won the right to file the wrongful death lawsuit against him.

Moslenko, while admitting he knew Willis, has denied any wrongdoing. “I had no reason whatsoever to cause the death of Kaila, as I loved her and we continued to live together until the day she died,” he has said in court documents.

Family says phone records show connection

As part of the recent summary judgment fight, Tran’s family filed evidence they gleaned from being granted access to a copy of the Winnipeg Police Service file on their investigation of Moslenko in connection with Tran’s murder.

In an affidavit, family representative Tiffany Tran said prior to her murder, Kaila had discovered Moslenko was cheating on her. “As a result, Kaila intended to end the relationship,” Tiffany said.

Phone records gleaned from Moslenko’s BlackBerry by the WPS forensic tech crime unit (he voluntarily gave police the device) appear to show Moslenko was often surfing dating websites, including Plenty of Fish, prior to Tran’s killing.

The records also reveal contact between phones registered to Willis and Moslenko.

The two phones connected briefly seven times on May 14, 2012 (more than a month before the murder) and twice on June 10, 2012, according to the police report. 

At 12:37 a.m. the day after the murder, Moslenko placed a 14-second call from his father’s cellphone to Willis’s number, the police records state. 

Killer’s 2nd statement not used in criminal trial 

Lawyers for the Tran family also filed in court a second video-recorded statement Willis gave to homicide detectives nearly two years after being charged with her murder.

In it, he implicates Moslenko in Tran’s killing, alleging he’d offered to retire a large drug debt Willis owed to a mutual acquaintance, a drug dealer.

The dealer is the same one Willis years earlier fingered to police as the person who ordered Tran’s killing. He was threatening to harm him and his family, Willis said.

Kaila Tran’s killer, Treyvonne Willis, arrives at the Public Safety Building to talk to police on Feb. 12, 2014. (Court exhibit)

Police investigated that avenue but never laid charges against the dealer.

The Crown called him to testify at the preliminary hearing in March 2014 and denied any responsibility in Tran’s death. 

The second statement was never entered as evidence in the criminal case against either Willis or Moslenko. Tran’s family said the Crown alerted them to its existence following Willis’s trial and police confirmed its existence.

It was Willis who asked to speak with police after reaching out to Manitoba Justice through his lawyer.

Two homicide detectives retrieved him from remand custody at Headlingley Correctional Centre on Feb. 12, 2014.

In the video, Willis often seems vague. His answers occasionally expand as police revisit claims he makes, but many of them use qualified language.

He tells the detectives Moslenko propositioned him at a school playground (he couldn’t remember which school) sometime around his birthday in May 2012. 

“He just basically said, ‘how would you feel about killing somebody?’ And I said, ‘I don’t really have any intentions of doing that.’ And he said, ‘well, if you do it, I can help you clear up your debts,'” Willis told police. 

“So I thought about it and he told me that it would be cleared and there was a good chance for me to get away with it,” Willis tells the officers.

Did he give any details? one asks.

“No,” said Willis.

At some point not long after, Willis said Moslenko came to his apartment and they talked outside. 

“And I told him, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ And then he told me just different ways that I could do it.

 “He just told me where to be, where she’s going to be.”

Willis said he couldn’t remember the specific address of the apartment where this conversation happened.

As well, he believed he owed the dealer between $20,000-$25,000 but apparently took Moslenko at his word it was $100,000. He didn’t owe Moslenko a dime, Willis said. 

He said there was no further contact with Moslenko until after the murder.

Nor was there any specific plan discussed, Willis said, about exactly how his debts to the dealer would be repaid when the dust settled.

“He kind of said once it’s over with, he’ll give me the money to pay off the other guy … and I just walk away from everything, we forget each other existed, just go back to regular life and done with drugs and all that crazy stuff,” Willis said.

Police ask Willis why he’d initially implicated the dealer, not Moslenko, in the murder plot in his first interview.

“Were you trying to mislead us as to who was making you do this or was it just a play on words to let us figure it out?” he’s asked.

“I was kind of hoping you’d figure it out,” Willis replies.

A recent letter from McKelvey on the court file indicates it’s possible the case may be settled. She called the development “encouraging.”