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B.C. judge declines to hear application to throw out gang murder convictions

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November 20, 2014 - 8:25 AM

VANCOUVER - A British Columbia judge has rejected an attempt by two gangsters to have convictions related to a mass killing near Vancouver thrown out, ruling Wednesday that alleged abuses by police and jail officials shouldn't outweigh society's need to have the men punished for their crimes.

Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston were each convicted last month of conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder for an October 2007 shooting in Surrey, B.C., that left six dead, including two innocent bystanders.

Their lawyers alleged the behaviour of several RCMP officers involved in the case — including having sex with protected witnesses — amounted to an abuse of process.

The lawyers also alleged their clients received inhumane treatment in jail following their arrests.

Because of those alleged abuses, the defence lawyers asked a B.C. Supreme Court judge for a stay of proceedings, which would have effectively thrown out the convictions.

Judge Catherine Wedge said the allegations, if true, would represent serious misconduct on the part of the police officers, while the mistreatment in jail would likely violate international treaties that dictate how prisoner's should be treated.

But Wedge said those abuses do not warrant throwing out the convictions.

"In light of the number of victims and the motivation underlying the murders, society's interest in seeing justice done on the merits of this case is profound," she wrote in a 42-page decision.

"I am satisfied that the price of staying these convictions could not be worth the gain to our justice system."

The Crown's theory at trial was that the killings began as a hit on a rival drug trafficker, ordered by the leadership of the Red Scorpions gang. Five others, including a neighbour and a fireplace repairman who were both in the wrong place at the wrong time, were also killed to eliminate potential witnesses, the trial heard.

The defence application to stay the charges heard allegations that four RCMP officers with the region's integrated homicide unit engaged in a series of inappropriate actions during the investigation,

Sgt. Derek Brassington, Staff-Sgt. Dave Attew, Cpl. Paul Johnston and Cpl. Danny Michaud, who have all been charged with allegations of misconduct, were accused of having sexual encounters with protected witnesses and hiding their behaviour from their superiors.

The allegations against the officers have not been proven, and Wedge did not rule on the veracity of the claims. The criminal case against the four officers has yet to be heard.

Wedge said in her ruling that the alleged police misconduct, if true, would be serious, though she said it was contained.

"The state has taken decisive action to disassociate itself from their behaviour," wrote Wedge, who noted the officers were removed from their duties in 2010.

Haevischer's and Johnston's lawyers also said the conditions the men faced in jail were inhumane. They included being housed in solitary confinement for 14 months, sometimes in cells that were dirtied with feces and blood, with severely limited contact with their lawyers and families.

The judge said the men's alleged treatment would violate corrections polices, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and international human rights treaties that Canada has signed. Jail officials appeared to be working under the direction of the RCMP, the judgement said.

However, Wedge noted those conditions improved more than four years ago.

Gang leader Jamie Bacon, who is also charged in the killings and is scheduled to stand trial separately next year, sued over similar complaints and a judge ruled in his favour in June 2010. Haevischer and Johnston were moved out of segregation the day after the ruling in Bacon's case, the court heard.

Among the victims were fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and building resident Chris Mohan, who had no connection to gangs or drugs. Also killed were Corey Lal, who was the intended target; Lal's brother Michael; Eddie Narong; and Ryan Bartolomeo.

Haevischer and Johnston started their trial alongside former Red Scorpions leader Michael Le.

Le entered a surprise guilty plea last year to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder and received a sentence of 12 years, reduced to three years after time served, in exchange for his testimony.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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