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Defence says Crown has failed to prove murder plot at B.C. gang trial

Media gather at the entrance to B.C. Supreme Court on the first day of the "Surrey Six" murder trial in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday September 30, 2013 to hear a victim’s mother speak.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

The Crown has failed to prove a mass shooting near Vancouver that killed six people, including two innocent bystanders, was the culmination of a gang plot to murder a rival drug trafficker, a defence lawyer said Thursday.

Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston are on trial for conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder for the shooting in a highrise condo in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007.

The Crown alleges the Red Scorpions gang plotted to kill a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal and that five other people were killed to eliminate potential witnesses. The Crown contends Haevischer, Johnston and a third man known only as Person X carried out the murders.

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But lawyer Michael Tammen, who represents Johnston, says the Crown has failed to prove its conspiracy theory, let alone that his client was involved in hatching any plot or that he was involved in the killings.

Tammen said the only evidence to support the alleged plot comes from two former gangsters who cannot be trusted: former Red Scorpions leader Michael Le, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy midway through the trial as part of a deal with the Crown, and a witness known only as Person Y, an admitted killer who told the court he was involved in the conspiracy.

"Was there a conspiracy to kill Corey Lal? To get to the answer you really must look to the evidence of (Person Y) and Michael Le," Tammen told a B.C. Supreme Court judge as he presented his final submissions.

"Our fundamental position is that those witnesses are so untrustworthy as to be unworthy of belief. You should simply find the Crown has failed to prove the existence of a conspiracy."

Even if there was a conspiracy to target Lal, Tammen said the trial has heard little evidence to suggest Johnston was involved in hatching it.

He also suggested that if there was a plot, it may have been to rob Lal rather than to kill him.

Tammen said Person Y and Le both testified that the alleged conspiracy, at least at some point, involved robbing Lal.

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Tammen noted there is evidence that drugs, money and cellphones were taken from the scene, adding to the possibility that what happened actually started as a robbery.

Person Y told the court he gave Person X a gun shortly before the murders, and the court also heard Person Y's DNA was found at the murder scene

Tammen said it didn't make any sense that Person Y would hand over a gun that he knew could contain his DNA if he believed it would be used in a homicide. Person Y said he kept the small handgun gun inside his boxer shorts while working out at the gym.

"There does seem to be some evidence for the notion that at some point there was some sort of discussion or plan to rob Corey Lal," said Tammen.

Two of the victims had no connection to gangs or drugs: fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg, 55, and Chris Mohan, 22, whose family lived across the hall from the murder scene.

The other victims were Lal, his brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo.

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Le was sentenced to 12 years for conspiracy, which was reduced to three years after time served. He could be eligible for parole by the end of this year.

Alleged Red Scorpions co-leader Jamie Bacon is charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder and is expected to stand trial later.

Person X pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

Another man, Sophon Sek, is awaiting trial for manslaughter.

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