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Former gang leader who testified at murder trial 'one of the worst' witnesses

VANCOUVER - A former gang leader who defected to the Crown at the trial involving the murders of six people is a violent, conniving and greedy man who lied on the stand in a calculated attempt to escape a life sentence, a defence lawyer said Tuesday.

Simon Buck described former Red Scorpions gang leader Michael Le as one of the most unreliable witnesses he's ever encountered.

"Mr. Le was argumentative, evasive, sarcastic and impertinent," Buck, who represents Cody Haevischer, told a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

"This is one of the worst witnesses that I've ever seen."

Haevischer and Matthew Johnston are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of six people, including two innocent bystanders, in a Surrey, B.C., highrise condominium in October 2007.

Le was also charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder, and he sat beside Haevischer and Johnston in the prisoners' box until he entered a surprise guilty plea last fall.

As part of a plea deal, Le agreed to testify. In exchange, the Crown dropped the murder charge and signed off on a sentence that could see Le eligible for parole by the end of this year.

The Crown's theory has been that Le, who founded the Red Scorpions gang, and his co-leader Jamie Bacon ordered the murder a rival drug trafficker.

The Crown alleges Haevischer, Johnston and a third man known as Person X went to carry out the execution, but also killed five others, including a fireplace repairmen and a neighbour, to eliminate potential witnesses.

Le testified that the murder plot was Bacon's idea, and that he initially objected to the plan before later acquiescing. Le told the court he was shocked when he learned six people were killed.

Le claimed Haevischer and Johnston each confessed on separate occasions.

Buck said Le repeatedly lied to minimize his role in the conspiracy, because he knew the Crown would be reluctant to offer him a deal if he admitted having a more central role in the plot.

At the same time, Buck said Le's plea deal was dependent on him implicating Haevischer. Buck suggested Le accomplished that by concocting the story of Haevischer's alleged confession.

"He had a strong motive to lie, derived from his admitted intent to avoid a conviction of first-degree murder and life in prison," said Buck.

Buck said Le tailored his testimony to fit in with evidence he had already seen during the trial or through Crown disclosure.

Le told the court Johnston described what happened in a meeting in a parking lot in the hours after the murders. He said Haevischer also confessed in a separate meeting in the days that followed, writing on a dry-erase board that he killed three people and that Person X killed the other three.

He said without Le's testimony, the Crown is left with a weak, circumstantial case that also relies on the testimony of other unsavoury witnesses, including Haevischer's former girlfriend and another former gang member.

Buck suggested there is no direct evidence proving Haevischer was even present when the shooting happened, while he said the evidence raises a number of other possibilities, including that Person X shot all six victims.

Person X pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of second-degree murder and was expected to testify, but the judge hearing the case ruled his evidence inadmissible for reasons that have never been fully explained.

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.

Bacon is charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder and is expected to stand trial later.

Person X pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

Another man, Sophon Sek, is awaiting trial for manslaughter.

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