Appeal underway for two men convicted in the Surrey Six murders
VANCOUVER -- Two men serving life sentences in connection with B.C.’s deadliest gang shooting are now appealing their convictions in court.
Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston were found guilty of six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to murder following the execution-style shootings of six people in a Surrey condo in 2007. The pair were sentenced to life in prison in 2014. Wednesday marked the start of an eight-day appeal hearing, with lawyers for Haevischer and Johnston presenting their grounds for appeal.
Members of the public and the media are not able to attend the courtroom in person to observe, due to COVID-19 spacing protocols and the number of lawyers and other participants. However, the hearing is being broadcast online.
Eileen Mohan, whose 22-year-old son Chris was one of two innocent bystanders killed in the mass shooting, attended court for the hearing. The Mohan family lived in the suite right across from the unit where the murders took place.
“These days you never know which way the courts go,” she told CTV News Vancouver. “But you know Christopher’s not coming home again and it was not his fault, and we families just have to stand on guard for them that have lost their voices.”
Johnston’s lawyer Brock Martland told the court it was unfair and unjust that his client and Haevischer were left out of part of a hearing prior to their trial that ultimately resulted in the exclusion of a key witness, known only as “Person X” due to a publication ban.
According to court documents, Person X pleaded guilty in 2009 to the second-degree murders of three of the Surrey six victims, as well as conspiracy to commit murder. Lawyers for the two appellants argue the crown’s case became “entirely circumstantial” when Person X was excluded, and Haevischer and Johnston still have no idea why that decision was made.
According to joint documents filed on behalf of both Johnston and Haevischer: “This is not how a criminal trial is supposed to work. An accused person has a statutory and constitutional right to be present at proceedings that affect his or her vital interests.”
“They don’t know anything more now than they knew then about what happened in their absence,” Martland said, called the situation a “significant legal error.”
“This should not have happened,” he added.
Martland said the day Person X pleaded guilty was the same day Johnston and Haevischer were arrested. Also arrested that day was Red Scorpion gang leader Jamie Bacon, who in July pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit the murder of one of the Surrey Six victims, 21 year-old Corey Lal. He also pleaded guilty to counselling to commit murder in connection with a 2008 shooting, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Factoring in credit for time spent in custody, he’ll spend another five years and seven months behind bars.
According to a summary of the trial judge’s findings included in the joint statement of facts, Corey Lal was involved in the illegal drug trade and had been using the condo unit as a stash house, and when he did not pay a $100,000 “tax” to the Red Scorpion gang, it was decided he would be killed.
The other victims of the shooting included Lal’s 26-year-old brother Michael, 19-year-old Ryan Bartolomeo, and 22-year-old Edward Narong. Fifty-five-year-old Ed Schellenberg was the other innocent bystander killed. He was servicing fireplaces in the condo complex at the time.
The judge found the five victims other than Lal were murdered “to avoid detection.”
Mohan said she’s coming to court to represent her son and ensure “justice is done for him.”
“I’m hoping that this won’t end up as a disaster as the Bacon trial,” Mohan said. “That’s my only hope, and the first-degree murder charges keep intact.”