Alberta Appeal Court upholds sentences in Mountie killings

Two men jailed for their role in the shooting deaths of four Mounties near Mayerthorpe, Alta., have lost their appeal for shorter sentences.

EDMONTON — Two men jailed for their roles in the shooting deaths of four Alberta Mounties have lost their appeals for shorter sentences.

Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years respectively after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the killings, which happened near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in March 2005.

Court heard that the two men gave gunman James Roszko a rifle and ride back to his farm on the night constables Anthony Gordon, Brock Myrol, Leo Johnston and Peter Schiemann were gunned down.

Lawyers for Hennessey and Cheeseman argued the two men had been acting out of fear of Roszko that night and said the sentences were vengeful and too severe.

In a written ruling Monday, two of three Alberta Court of Appeal justices wrote that the sentences were appropriate for the worst such crime in Canadian history and that Roszko probably would not have succeeded in killing the Mounties without their help.

“Help for Roszko was vital. He probably could not have performed any of the crimes unaided,” wrote justices Jean Cote and Elizabeth McFadyen.

“I would dismiss Hennessey’s appeal. To cut Cheeseman’s sentence significantly would come much too close to the minimum sentence for a single killing. Yet this is a grave multiple crime.”

Justice Peter Martin wrote a dissenting opinion that said Cheeseman did almost nothing to facilitate the crime and the court should reconsider his sentence.

The mother of one of the slain constables said she was heartened by the Appeal Court’s ruling.

“I am quite please that they ruled against them,” said Gordon’s mother, Doreen Jewell-Duffy. “One of these days they get to come home. Our sons will never get to come home.”

Cote and McFadyen rejected arguments by lawyers that Hennessey and Cheeseman were terrified of Roszko. They noted that once the pair dropped Roszko off that night, they had seven hours to warn RCMP that he was armed and seeking a confrontation with police.

“There is no evidence of any overt threat by Roszko to Hennessey or to Cheeseman,” the two justices wrote. “Any plausibility of intimidation as a mitigating factor disappeared once Roszko was out of the car.”

Roszko had had run-ins with the law for years and before he shot the Mounties that March night. He killed himself after being wounded in a shootout following the murders.

According to a statement of facts, Hennessey, 30, said he helped Roszko because he was part of a marijuana grow-op that was found by the Mounties on that fateful day. Cheeseman, 26, helped because he was Hennessey’s brother-in-law.

Hersh Wolch, Hennessey’s lawyer, said the families of the two men are disappointed with the court ruling.

“We still feel that these young men have been treated very severely given their involvement,” Wolch said.

“To us it just appears that the magnitude of the horrific crime has been extended too far to these two young people whose involvement, in our view, was quite minimal and under duress.”

During the appeal Cheeseman’s lawyer, Peter Royal, pointed out that it was Cheeseman who said, after they had dropped off Roszko, that they should call police and warn them. Hennessey overruled the suggestion.

Royal suggested that a sentence of six to eight years would be more appropriate for Cheeseman. Cote and McFadyen said they didn’t didn’t buy that.

“The argument most pressed by Cheeseman’s counsel is the suggestion that his physical role was small and so his sentence should be small too … I do not agree with any of that,” the decision reads.

After credit for his guilty plea and pre-trial custody, Cheeseman is serving a total of seven years, two months and 15 days, but is eligible for full parole next June.

Hennessey was granted similar credits for total prison time of 10 years, fours months and 15 days. Full parole, if granted, would start on July 15, 2012.

A fatality inquiry into the Mayerthorpe killings is to begin on Jan. 11.