Believe former gang leader, Crown tells judge
VANCOUVER – A prosecutor urged a judge Friday to accept the testimony of a former gang leader who flipped to become a Crown witness, saying it’s believable that two alleged killers would have confessed to their boss after murdering six people near Vancouver.
Former gang leader Michael Le was the star witness at the trial of Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, who are accused of murdering six men, including two innocent bystanders, in a highrise condo in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007.
When the trial began last fall, Le was sitting beside Haevischer and Johnston in the prisoner’s dock, but he entered a surprise guilty plea in November after agreeing to testify.
Le, who founded the Red Scorpions gang, told the court that Haevischer and Johnston each admitted their involvement to him on separate occasions.
“The killing of six individuals, particularly when two uninvolved people were killed — it was immediately recognized that police and media attention would cause difficulties to the Red Scorpions,” Crown counsel Mark Levitz said in B.C. Supreme Court.
“It would defy common sense that members involved in such high-profile murders would not meet with their leader to explain what went wrong and seek direction.”
The Crown’s theory is that Le and another gang leader, Jamie Bacon, ordered the killing of a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal, said Levitz.
He alleged Haevischer, Johnston and a third man known only as Person X went to Lal’s drug stash house to carry out the execution but killed another five people to eliminate potential witnesses.
Le told the court that within hours of the murders, he received a panicked phone call from Johnston asking to meet. Le testified that Johnston told him six people, not just Lal, were killed, explaining: “They saw our faces. We had no choice.”
The former gang leader said during a meeting a few days later, Haevischer wrote on a dry-erase board that he shot three people and Person X shot the other three.
Le is among several former gang members who testified at the trial, and all are expected to have their credibility challenged when defence lawyers deliver their final arguments next week.
During Le’s cross-examination, defence lawyers suggested he attempted to minimize his own role in the murder plot.
They also accused him of tailoring his testimony to fit evidence he had already seen during the trial or through disclosure from the Crown, and they attempted to paint him as an evasive witness who was unco-operative on the stand.
Levitz rejected the suggestion that Le’s testimony was tainted by other evidence, noting several instances in which Le contradicted information he would have already seen.
“Le was not simply regurgitating information,” said Levitz.
He said Le was a “careful” witness who did the best he could to understand the questions being asked.
Le was born in Vietnam and was also a member of the Triads gang.
Five months after the shootings in Surrey, he fled to Asia. He spent the next year travelling through his home country of Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and China. He was arrested in June 2009 after arriving in the Philippines.
Le was charged with conspiracy to commit murder and one count of first-degree murder in the death of Corey Lal.
He pleaded guilty last November to conspiracy, while the murder charge was dropped. He was sentenced to 12 years, which was reduced to three after time served, and he could be eligible for parole by the end of this year.
Le is also expected to testify at the upcoming conspiracy and murder trial of Bacon, his alleged co-leader of the Red Scorpions.
Person X, who the Crown says carried out the killings with Haevischer and Johnston, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2009 and is serving a life sentence.
Another man, Sophon Sek, is awaiting trial for manslaughter.
The victims included Ed Schellenberg, a 55-year-old fireplace repairman who was in the condo performing maintenance, and 22-year-old Chris Mohan, whose family lived across the hall.
The other victims were Lal, his brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo, all of whom had links to gangs and drugs.
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