VANCOUVER — A “cold-blooded” murder conspiracy of a rival gangster that blundered into five other deaths has resulted in life prison sentences for two gang members, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday.
Justice Catherine Wedge delivered the highest possible penalty to two members of the notorious Red Scorpions gang along with a condemnation of the violent invasion of a Surrey, B.C., residential apartment seven years ago.
“The conspiracy itself was by its nature so dangerous, so callous and so fraught with risk that it in fact resulted in six deaths, rather than one,” she said.
Each man had a chance for sober second thought, she said, but despite recognizing others would be collateral damage they carried out the plan.
“The behaviour of both offenders in this regard was, in normative terms, off any scale that could be used.”
Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston were each found guilty in October of conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder. The sentences pronounced Friday were automatic and expected, but the proceedings provided an opportunity for the presentation of nine victim-impact statements.
The judge had discretion to rule on the conspiracy conviction, ordering that Haevischer will serve 18 years and Johnston 20 years concurrently, but that time is reduced to about one-third after time served. All sentences run concurrently from the time the men were arrested in 2009, meaning they could face a parole board in about two decades.
“Hopefully when that day comes, the officials will look at the nature of these crimes and hopefully they will decide that it’s in the interest of everyone concerned that these fellows don’t get out for a long time to come,” said Crown prosecutor Mark Levitz outside court.
Levitz added he hopes the sentence gives the victims’ families a sense of justice and eases some of their pain.
The October 2007 massacre in the Vancouver suburb soon came to be known as the “Surrey Six” murders.
Harrowing testimony from several family members of the men killed was entered into the court record.
Eileen Mohan became one of the most vocal advocates for justice after her 22-year-old son, Christopher, was dragged into the apartment next door and lined up for death. The young man was heading to a basketball game.
The mother told court that after her son was cremated, she cradled the urn with his ashes to her body and remembered her pregnancy, wishing desperately she had not asked him to stay home to meet the fireplace repairman.
“At that moment I wished I had not given birth, at least he would have been saved from this horrible death,” she said through sobs.
“My eyes are so full of guilt. My heart has not forgiven me. My soul is crying out. As I buried Christopher, I buried my heart with him.”
The trial heard Ed Schellenberg, another bystander, was servicing the fireplace when the apartment was stormed. He was killed along with Corey Lal, the intended target, and Lal’s brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo.
The Crown’s theory was that the gang’s bosses ordered the men to murder Lal, a rival drug trafficker, and the other five were killed to eliminate witnesses.
A statement from Schellenberg’s daughter, Rachel, said she believes that if the killers knew what kind of man her dad was, they would have walked away.
Other victim statements described families torn apart by divorce, birthday and wedding celebrations forever lost and the release of a torrent of excruciating anger and emptiness.
Jourdane Lal, the sister of the murdered brothers, said the trial wreacked havoc on her mother by illustrating how a group of “young thugs planned and schemed” to kill a son and brother.
“My greatest hope and desire is that the people responsible for these crimes feel the agonizing pain in these words I’ve written here today, and their hearts will ache for the sadness and devastation that they have sentenced us to,” she said.
Lawyers for both convicted men said their clients did not want any personal details of their lives made public. Neither addressed the court when asked whether they wished to make a statement, as is customary at sentencing.
Red Scorpions leader Jamie Bacon faces trial for conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder at a trial next May.
Another man, Sophon Sek, is awaiting a separate trial for manslaughter.