National News

Crown downplays B.C. gang leader's testimony

By James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - A former gang leader's testimony at a mass murder trial in British Columbia is far from the only evidence against the alleged killers, the Crown said Friday, downplaying the significance of a witness who has enormous credibility problems.

Michael Le, who admitted to being the founder of the Red Scorpions street gang in the Vancouver area, pleaded guilty last fall after reaching a deal that saw him testify against Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston.

Haevischer and Johnston are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder for the shootings that killed six people, including two innocent bystanders, in a highrise condo in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007.

Le testified about the plot to murder a rival drug trafficker and claimed Haevischer and Johnston each admitted their involvement.

Defence lawyers have urged the judge to disregard everything he said. Without Le's testimony, defence lawyers have argued the Crown has little evidence to win convictions.

But Crown counsel Mark Levitz said the prosecution has presented a "powerful body of circumstantial evidence" and he suggested the defence has overstated Le's importance.

"Mr. Le is one of 73 witnesses the Crown has called and the Crown is not basing its case on the evidence of one witness," Levitz told a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Friday has he replied to defence lawyers' final arguments.

Referring specifically to the case against Haevischer, Levitz said: "Mr. Le's evidence, specifically the admission he obtained from Mr. Haevischer, hardly forms the bulk of the evidence."

The Crown's theory is that Le and his alleged Red Scorpions co-leader plotted to kill Corey Lal, a rival in the drug trade. The Crown alleges Haevischer, Johnston and a third man known as Person X went to carry out the murder, but also killed five others to eliminate potential witnesses.

In exchange for Le's testimony, the Crown dropped the first-degree murder charge — and a potential life sentence. Instead, Le was sentenced to 12 years for conspiracy to commit murder, which was reduced to three years after time served. He could be eligible for parole by the end of this year.

Le is among several witnesses whose credibility has been called into question. The list also includes Haevischer's former girlfriend, known as K.M.; and a former gangster who can only be referred to as Person Y.

Last week, the Crown attempted to head off questions about those witnesses' credibility.

Levitz said K.M. reluctantly co-operated with police out of a sense of obligation to a woman she considered her "surrogate mother." K.M. simply "told it like it is" and had no reason to lie, said Levitz.

Levitz told the trial last week that Person Y was disillusioned with his life of crime and appeared motivated by a desire to take responsibility for his actions. The Crown noted Person Y is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to two unrelated murders.

When it came to Le, the Crown merely said Le's claims that subordinate gang members would have confessed to their leader made sense.

The trial is expected to wrap up on Monday, with a verdict likely weeks or months away.

The victims included 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old Chris Mohan, whose family lived across the hall from the murder scene.

The other victims all had links to gangs and drugs: Lal, his brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo.

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.

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