It was a killing that rocked Manitoba's criminal underworld to the core. Now a longtime biker has been found guilty of first-degree murder for gunning down a notorious rival gang leader.
Sean Heickert faces a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years after learning his fate Wednesday. His trial began last November in Thompson and was heard by a judge alone, not a jury.
A co-accused, Kevin Moose, was found not guilty of manslaughter for his alleged role. Moose was accused of providing the gun Heickert used.
Bekim Zeneli was shot dead in November 2007 inside his Thompson apartment in an apparent power struggle over control of the lucrative northern Manitoba drug trade. Zeneli was the founder of the LHS (loyalty, honour, silence) gang.
Police described Heickert and Moose as associates of the Hells Angels who were competing for lucrative drug profits with LHS at the time. They weren't arrested until October 2008 following a lengthy police probe.
Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser said Wednesday she was convinced of Heickert's guilt, thanks largely to testimony from shady witnesses who reluctantly testified against him.
"There is a saying that if you lay down with dogs, you are likely to get fleas. Suffice it to say that a number of the witnesses in this case were figuratively covered in fleas," said Keyser. But she added there was no direct evidence tying Moose to the crime.
Keyser said Heickert had a clear motive and opportunity to kill Zeneli, whom she described as a "violent and unpredictable" man who had become increasingly paranoid in the weeks before his death. Keyser said it was noteworthy Heickert added a "teardrop" tattoo under his eye shortly after the slaying. The tattoo is symbolic of having taken a life. Police also found gunshot residue on Heickert's clothing.
In a strange twist, Heickert's name surfaced days after the slaying -- as a victim of an apparent murder plot. Police intercepted his brother, James Heickert, and Thompson residents Dean Gurniak and Stanley Lucovic for planning Heickert's death. James Heickert was a full-patch member of the Hells Angels chapter in Oshawa, Ont. The trio later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and received lengthy prison sentences under a joint agreement between Crown and defence lawyers.
"There are no good guys in this conflict. They're all villains," federal prosecutor Chris Mainella told court at the sentencing hearing. "Trying to assess the virtue in the Thompson drug trade is likened to trying to pass out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."
Sean Heickert was back in the news in August 2008 after being shot in Thompson and medevaced to Winnipeg with serious injuries. No arrests were made in that attack.
Court documents obtained by the Free Press revealed police had listened in on a detailed plan to kill Zeneli just two days before his death, but never warned him about the apparent threat. Undercover police agent Scotty "Taz" Robertson told several gang associates inside a Pembina Highway hotel room he would take out Zeneli for $20,000. Robertson was paid $650,000 to infiltrate the Hells Angels during the year-long undercover Project Drill probe that resulted in 18 arrests.
Rivals described Zeneli as a "terrorist" who was pushing the Hells Angels out of Thompson and needed to be stopped. Police recorded detailed discussions about killing Sean Heickert, who was working with Zeneli at the time. Talk of killing Zeneli began at the start of Project Drill in December 2006. Police sent Zeneli a warning letter but took no further action, such as charging any of the men who had discussed the conspiracy.