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Defence attacks 'outrageous' payments to gangster witness at murder trial

VANCOUVER - A key Crown witness at a gang murder trial in Vancouver is an admitted killer who received "outrageous" cash payments and other benefits worth nearly $1.5 million — all public money — in exchange for his co-operation, a defence lawyer told court Wednesday.

The witness, known only as Person Y, testified at the trial of Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, who are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of six people, including two innocent bystanders, in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007.

Person Y, who was associated with the Red Scorpions gang, which the Crown alleges was behind the murder plot, testified about his own role in the conspiracy and claimed Johnston confessed to him.

Brock Martland, who represents Johnston, urged the judge hearing the case to be highly skeptical of Person Y, whose co-operation and testimony earned what many would consider to be a windfall.

Martland pointed to court exhibits that indicate Person Y cost taxpayers roughly $1.4 million, beginning when he became a police informant in early 2008.

Person Y received cash payments worth tens of thousands of dollars, a generous living allowance, money for a luxury car, tuition payments and other expenses — together worth almost $1 million, said Martland.

On top of that, Martland noted taxpayers also covered nearly $500,000 for Person Y's legal fees.

Martland condemned the payments as "outrageous, over-sized benefits" to an "admitted multi-murderer."

"The question at this junction is what effect these benefits had in shaping and influencing (Person Y's) evidence," Martland told a B.C. Supreme Court judge as he delivered final arguments at the murder trial.

"The very fact of such significant payments should prompt significant skepticism."

The Crown's theory has been that the leaders of the Red Scorpions gang ordered a hit on a rival drug trafficker, and that Haevischer, Johnston and a man known as Person X carried out the execution and then killed five others to eliminate potential witnesses.

Person Y told the court he was involved in the conspiracy and initially intended to murder the drug rival himself but backed out at the last minute.

He said he gave Person X a gun — later found at the crime scene with Person Y's DNA on it — just before the murders.

Person Y testified that Johnston told him about the shooting several hours after the murders and then again the following year as Person Y wore a recording device for the police.

Person Y is now serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to two unrelated murders.

The Crown downplayed the payments, suggesting they are of little value to Person Y since he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

But Martland said $1.4 million would be significant to anyone, whether in prison or not, and Person Y could pass on that money to friends or family.

"It's true that he's not living in freedom where he personally gets to use it, but it is nonetheless a significant benefit to him," said Martland.

Even aside from the money, Martland urged the judge to disregard virtually everything Person Y said.

Martland described Person Y as a violent criminal who admitted that he has lied in court in the past. Martland also said Person Y appeared to have some form of untreated mental illness that has left him with a tenuous grip on reality.

"The question for the court is what to do with that evidence," said Martland.

"At the end of the day, the answer is not much — and perhaps nothing."

The victims included fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg, 55, and Chris Mohan, 22, whose family lived across the hall from the murder scene. Neither were connected to gangs or drugs.

The other victims were Corey Lal, who the Crown says was the intended target, his brother Michael, Eddie Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo, all of whom had links to gangs and drugs.

Red Scorpions founder Michael Le pleaded guilty last fall to conspiracy after agreeing to testify for the Crown. His credibility has also come under considerable scrutiny.

Le's alleged co-leader Jamie Bacon is charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder and is expected to stand trial later.

Follow @ByJamesKeller on Twitter

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