Jonathan Lehrer: Two Americans charged in death of Canadian entrepreneur

Daniel Langlois
Image caption,Daniel Langlois was a pioneering animator

By Nadine Yousif

BBC News

Two Americans have been charged with the murder of a Canadian businessman and his partner in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica.

Jonathan Lehrer and Robert Snider were both charged at a hearing on Wednesday before Dominica’s chief magistrate.

Police believe the two were involved in the suspicious deaths of Daniel Langlois and Dominique Merchand, whose bodies were discovered in a burnt-out vehicle on Friday.

Both are in custody pending a trial.

Police discovered the bodies of Mr Langlois and Ms Marchand in the Soufriere area of the island, after they had been reported missing.

Mr Langlois, who founded an animation software firm called Softimage that has been used in major blockbuster films, is originally from Quebec and has been living with his partner in Dominica since 1997.

After their bodies were discovered, police said they detained three foreign nationals and one Dominican.

A few days later, officials charged Mr Lehrer and Mr Snider, who was described in reports as Mr Lehrer’s “accomplice”, with the murder of the couple.

Mr Lehrer, a chocolate maker who is originally from New Jersey, owned a 53-acre property next to a 200-acre luxury, off-the-grid eco-resort that was owned by the couple.

The property is located on the Bois Cotlette Estate, one of the oldest plantations in Dominica, according to its website.

Mr Lehrer had been in a dispute with the couple over the use of a public road that intersected with his property, which he had allegedly blocked by placing boulders on it and digging a trench, according to court documents.

Mr Langlois then filed legal action against Mr Lehrer, claiming his actions had interfered with his resort and livelihood. He sought a permanent injunction against Mr Lehrer so that the road could be opened up.

Coulibri Ridge
Image caption,The couple owned an eco-resort, Coulibri Ridge

In 2019, a High Court judge mandated that Mr Lehrer open up the road to public use, and that he grant guests of Mr Langlois’ unrestricted access.

The ruling, penned by Judge Bernie Stephenson, noted that both men are prominent businessmen whose projects are beneficial not only to them, but their employees, the village and its surrounding areas.

“This court reiterates its view that every effort should be made by the parties to mediate and settle this matter soonest,” Judge Stephenson wrote.

In an¬†interview with Le Journal de Montreal, Mr Lehrer’s father, Robert, said he believed his son was innocent.

“Jonathan is a successful businessman, not a murderer,” he told the French-Canadian newspaper. “We are very close and he is not a violent man at all. I have a hard time believing it.”

Robert added his son’s legal dispute with Mr Langlois had “bothered him a lot,” but that he had not heard any updates on the matter in recent years.

Mr Langlois worked as a director and animator in the Canadian province of Quebec before founding Softimage in the 1980s.

Its 3D animation software was used in the production of major film hits including Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Titanic.

In 1994, the company was sold to Microsoft for a reported $130m (£85m).

Three years after that sale, Mr Langlois shared an Academy Award in the scientific and technical category for Softimage animation components.

More recently, Mr Langlois and Ms Marchand established the Resilient Dominica Project to help the island following Hurricane Maria, which killed 65 people and devastated the local economy.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge called Mr Langlois “a visionary in digital technologies and cinema”.

“His legacy reflects his innovative spirit. My thoughts are with his loved ones,” she wrote.

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