VANCOUVER — There is “overwhelming evidence” to prove that two men participated in the murders of six people as part of a dispute between a violent Vancouver-area gang and its rivals in the region’s drug trade, a Crown lawyer told the men’s trial Wednesday.
Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the men, including two innocent bystanders, who were shot in a highrise condo in Surrey in October 2007.
The Crown alleges Haevischer and Johnston set out to kill a rival drug trafficker under the direction of their bosses in the Red Scorpions gang, but that five others were also murdered to eliminate potential witnesses.
Crown counsel Mark Levitz said the trial has heard a mountain of circumstantial evidence, including surveillance videos, forensic evidence and testimony from former gang members, that can only lead to one conclusion: that Haevischer and Johnston participated in the killings.
“The Crown has presented overwhelming evidence to prove that Haevischer and Johnston were among the co-perpetrators of these murders,” Levitz told a B.C. Supreme Court judge on the first day of closing submissions.
The Crown’s theory has been that the leaders of the Red Scorpions gang, Michael Le and Jamie Bacon, decided to kill a rival trafficker named Corey Lal, who had failed to pay a $100,000 “tax.”
The Crown contends Haevischer, Johnston and a third man known only as Person X went to Lal’s apartment in Surrey, where they encountered Lal and five other people, including a fireplace repairman and a neighbour with no connection to gangs or drugs. Haevischer shot three people and Person X shot the other three, the Crown alleges.
Person X has already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Le was also on trial alongside Haevischer and Johnston until he entered a surprise guilty plea last year in a deal that saw him testify against his former co-accused.
Levitz said Haevischer and Johnston both had the motive, means and opportunity to carry out the killings, and he noted that former associates told the trial each had admitted involvement.
He pointed to testimony from Le and other former associates, who told the court that Bacon imposed the tax on Lal because he had a “beef” with the man. Bacon then insisted Lal be killed to ensure the gang’s threats would be taken seriously and to bolster its “fearsome” reputation, said Levitz.
As members of the gang, Haevischer and Johnston had an obligation to carry out the orders, the Crown lawyer said.
He said surveillance videos and the testimony of several witnesses documented the movements of Haevischer, Johnston and Person X on the day of the killings, with the trio leaving Haevischer’s apartment shortly before the murders and returning shortly after. A Red Scorpions associate who lived in the same building as Lal testified that he gave Johnston his key fob, which was used to enter the building minutes before the Crown alleges the murders occurred.
Le testified that Haevischer and Johnston told him separately about the killings, that Haevischer shot three victims and Person X the other three.
Another associate, known only as Person Y, testified that he initially planned to participate but became a police informant and wore a recording device during conversations with Johnston. The court heard that Johnston told Person Y “I watched” while mimicking a gun with his hand.
Person Y also testified that he gave a handgun to Person X on the afternoon of the murders. A gun matching Person Y’s description of the firearm was found at the murder scene with Person Y’s DNA on it.
Bacon is also charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder and will be tried separately. Le is expected to testify at his trial, as well.
Another man, Sophon Sek, is awaiting trial for manslaughter.
The victims included fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg, 55, and building resident Chris Mohan, 22, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The other victims were Lal, his brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo, all of whom had links to gangs and drugs.