VANCOUVER – The British Columbia Court of Appeal has rejected a serial killer’s application to have a new trial based on a claim that a judge implied the man’s lawyers behaved unethically.
Cody Legebokoff was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced in September 2014 to life in prison for killing three women and a girl in central B.C.
His lawyer Eric Gottardi told the B.C. Court of Appeal that the judge made disparaging comments about Legebokoff’s counsel but those views were only made public after a sentence was imposed.
The judge said Legebokoff’s lawyers had exaggerated and distorted evidence in a 2012 application to have the trial moved to Vancouver after opinion polls suggested greater media coverage about the case in Prince George would risk prejudicing potential jurors.
The change-of-venue application was dismissed, with the judge saying Legebokoff’s counsel failed to acknowledge that the media coverage of the high-profile case was available throughout British Columbia.
“The judge stated that some of the paragraphs in the (change-of-venue) notice were ‘breathtaking in the sheer hypocrisy they represent,'” said the written appeal court decision released Monday.
Legebokoff’s counsel argued in May that their client should have been made aware of the judge’s views before the trial so he could have retained other lawyers.
Gottardi told the B.C. Court of Appeal that overwhelming evidence against Legebokoff meant it was a “slam-dunk Crown case” and the judge should have “bent over backwards to ensure the accused had a fair trial, and he didn’t.”
Gottardi said the appearance of unfairness at trial meant the case must be heard again.
However, B.C. appeal court Justice David Frankel said in the decision released Monday that a judge’s view that counsel has acted unprofessionally does not convey bias because judges must decide cases based on facts and the law.
Frankel said Legebokoff was competently represented throughout the trial and there is no suggestion that the judge’s views affected how he conducted the proceedings.
“The trial judge was not under a duty to express his views earlier,” Frankel said, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel.
Legebokoff was convicted for the murders of 15-year-old Loren Leslie, 23-year-old Natasha Montgomery and Jill Stuchenko and Cynthia Maas, who were both 35.
The killings came to light after a police officer who pulled Legebokoff over for speeding noticed blood on his face and clothing that turned out to be from his final victim.