TORONTO — A bike gang member convicted in what’s believed to be Ontario’s largest mass slaying didn’t know anyone would die that night eight years ago, nor did he help other bikers carry out the execution-style killings, his lawyer argued Monday.
Brett Gardiner is one of five men challenging dozens of murder convictions in a ruthless internal cleansing of the outlaw motorcycle club that left eight members of its Toronto chapter dead.
Gardiner’s lawyer, Christopher Hicks, told the Ontario Court of Appeal that his client, who court heard never held a gun or watched over the targeted men the night of the slaughter, should have been found guilty of manslaughter in all eight deaths instead of two.
“There was no plan to do this,” Hicks told the three-judge panel.
Even after it became clear that two men had been killed, there was no evidence at trial suggesting Gardiner’s actions in any way helped in killing the others, though he did at one point remove items from the trunk of a car in which one of the bodies was later found, Hicks argued.
In all, Gardiner and five other men were convicted of 44 counts of first-degree murder and four counts of manslaughter in the slaying of eight Bandidos in April 2006. The bikers’ bodies were found stuffed into cars and abandoned at a rural property near London.
All six men — including the purported mastermind, Wayne Kellestine, on whose farm the murders took place — filed notices of appeal shortly after their convictions in 2009, but appeal court documents show only five are now proceeding.
Court documents show Kellestine objected to being branded a “psychopath” at trial and took issue with other character evidence he deemed “massively prejudicial,” such as Nazi symbols found on his farm.
The other four — Gardiner, Marcelo Aravena, Frank Mather and Dwight Mushey —were portrayed at trial as power-hungry schemers or wannabes gunning for status in the gang.
Several, including Gardiner, are arguing on appeal that they should have been allowed to use the defence of duress.
The Crown argued at the trial that the murders were the result of rising tensions between the dead men and the probationary Bandidos chapter in Winnipeg. The prosecution relied largely on the testimony of a man who is now an informant but was a member of the Winnipeg Bandidos.
Kellestine, a member of the Toronto chapter and the one responsible for internal discipline, began to distance himself from the group and align with the Winnipeg men.
Court heard he received orders from the gang’s U.S. headquarters to strip the Toronto chapter of their gang affiliation, effectively making himself the new national leader. The Winnipeg group were to help carry out the so-called patch-pulling.
Sometime in the hours before the killing, the plan changed to mass murder, court heard.
The only man convicted in the eight killings who appears to not be pursuing his appeal is Michael Sandham, who used to be a police officer with the now-defunct East St. Paul force just outside Winnipeg, and who shot the first of the eight men.
The court is scheduled to hear the challenge all week.