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Key witness banned at Surrey Six trial
A former gang member and key witness at the Surrey Six trial has been banned from testifying.
The man, who can only be identified as Person X due to a publication ban, pleaded guilty in April 2009 to three counts of second-degree murder in connection to the case, in which six men were shot to death in a North Surrey apartment.
Person X, who is serving a life sentence, was expected to provide revealing testimony at the trial of Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, who are both on trial in Vancouver in connection with the Oct. 19, 2007 murders of Christopher Mohan, Edward Schellenberg, Edward Narong, Ryan Bartolomeo, and brothers Chris and Michael Lal.
Person X's testimony was actually prohibited by B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Catherine Wedge in August after an in-camera hearing that took place in May, June and early August. However, her ruling was sealed pending a separate matter at the Supreme Court of Canada level surrounding the publication of Person X's background (as well as that of another key witness). Only a redacted, four-page version of Wedge's ruling was released last week.
"On Aug. 14, 2013, I ruled that an important witness, Person X, cannot be called by the Crown in the trial of this matter," stated Wedge. "His evidence is inadmissible…"
The decision hinged on trial fairness and information the Crown had that it wanted withheld from lawyers for the accused for fear it would reveal the identity of a confidential police informer. No details about the information are contained in Wedge's ruling, but she stressed that the protection of confidential informants plays a vital role in law enforcement.
"The privilege afforded to the confidential informer is one of the most absolute, unqualified rights recognized at law," she wrote. "By shielding the identity of those who provide confidential information to police, the privilege protects against the risk of retribution and encourages the co-operation of future informants.”
It remains unclear how the loss of Person X's testimony will affect the trial, but Eileen Mohan, mother of 22-year-old victim Chris Mohan, said she has to have faith in the court's decision.
"I'm sure her ladyship thought that this person not testifying was in the best interest of the case," said Mohan. "I'm leaving a crucial decision like this in her hands. In the end, we'll find out if it was the right decision."
A day prior to the ruling's release, Person X and another witness, Person Y, lost an appeal bid, allowing Wedge to drop a portion of the sweeping publication ban that prevented the media from reporting the former witness's background.
It can now be revealed Person X and another witness, Person Y, admitted to playing a role in the Surrey Six murders, later cooperating with police. Their lawyers had argued many details should be held back because the two are serving jail time and other inmates would see them as "rats," putting their lives at risk.
Wedge's ruling, however, said the sweeping ban the witnesses sought would have greatly hindered the media's ability to cover the case.
The Crown's theory is that Person X, Johnston and Haevischer went to the Balmoral Tower apartment building intending to kill Corey Lal over a drug turf dispute, but killed the five other men to ensure there were no witnesses.
In the opening of the trial, the court heard the victims were all found with hoods over their heads, and had each been shot execution style.
However, a summary of the Crown's theory in Wedge's ruling provides further detail of Person X's role in the murders, claiming he shot three victims and Haevischer shot the other three.
“On October 19, 2007, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Haevischer and X entered Suite 1505 of the Balmoral Towers apartment in Surrey. The latter two men both had handguns. The four people inside the suite, which included Mr. Lal, were ordered to the floor at gunpoint,” Wedge said.
“An associate of Mr. Lal’s subsequently arrived at the apartment and was also ordered to the floor. Mr. Johnston went into the hallway to summon and hold the elevator. He returned a short time later with a young man from a neighbouring suite who was also then ordered to the floor at gunpoint. Mr. Haevischer and X each shot and killed three victims.”
The Crown alleges that Red Scorpion gang leaders Michael Le and Jamie Bacon ordered the hit on Corey Lal, sending Haevischer, Matthew and Person X to commit the murder.
Bacon is charged with conspiracy to murder, but is being tried separately at a later date.
Haevischer and Johnston have each pleaded not guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Le was on trial with them, but last month pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder Corey Lal.
Le's sentencing is scheduled to take place in Vancouver on Tuesday (Dec. 17).