Vancouver mass murder trial begins today for refugee
A man accused of killing his business partner, two of his lovers and his step-daughter will be in court Monday for the start of a trial that could match the marathon proceedings in another serial murder case.
There are expected to be 200 witnesses called during Charles Kembo's trial and the hearing is expected to last for most of a year.
Kembo is facing four counts of first-degree murder for allegedly killing the three women and his business partner. He was arrested in July 2005 and it's taken more than four years for the case to come in front of jury.
By comparison, it took five years for the case against convicted serial killer Robert Pickton to be heard by jurors. That case involved six charges and went on for about the same amount of time Kembo's is slated to take, but 70 fewer witnesses were called.
Yet unlike Pickton's trial, Kembo has generated little media attention. The pretrial arguments in the case have proceeded in an easily accessible courtroom, without the same kind of diligent media and spectator screening that had people lining up to get in to the Pickton trial.
But Kembo's case won't delve into the misery of drugs and prostitution that shot Pickton's case into international headlines. Pickton was originally charged with killing 26 hookers. His trial proceeded on only six of those charges and what happens to the remaining 20 charges is still up in the air.
Kembo is accused of first murdering his wife Margaret Kembo, who vanished sometime between the end of December, 2002 and beginning of January, 2003.
In November 2003, Kembo's friend and business partner Ardon Samuel, 38, was also slain.
One year later, the body of Kembo's 55-year-old girlfriend Sui Yin Ma was found in a slough in Richmond, B.C.
Twenty-one-year-old Rita Yeung, Kembo's step-daughter, was found dead in July 2005 in Richmond.
Just days after Yeung's body was discovered, RCMP announced they had arrested Kembo.
"These murders were not random in nature. Each victim was known to Charles," said a news release from the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team issued at the time.
While there have been weeks and weeks of pre-trial applications before the court, Kembo is going to trial by way of direct indictment, eliminating a preliminary trial and saving months of court time.
"We expect it's going to be a complex, challenging trial that's six to eight months long," Crown prosecutor Henry Reiner said in an interview last week.
"I know where I'm going to be for a while," he added.
In January 2008, a woman filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of Kembo's now nine-year-old son asking that his mother, Margaret Kembo, be declared dead.
Genevieve Camara stated in an affidavit that she had been the boy's caretaker since Kembo dropped him off at her home in December, 2002.
The affidavit said she applied for survivor benefits for the boy through the Canada Pension Plan, but was unable to obtain the funds without a death certificate. Up to that point no death certificate was issued because no remains were found.
Months after the petition was filed the court application was discontinued and the only information added to the court documents were an RCMP news release on Kembo's arrest and the four-count indictment against him.
Kembo was known as Charlos Mathews Gwazah when he landed at Pearson International Airport in September 1989 from the landlocked southeast African country of Malawi.
He became a government-sponsored convention refugee, which allows a person to stay in Canada if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion or nationality.
Refugees selected for resettlement to Canada are financially supported by the government, after often being forced to flee their home country because of extreme hardship.
A Canadian visa officer must decide if the potential sponsored refugee meets the requirements of Canada's resettlement program.
Immigration and Refugee Board documents showed over the next three years he also made refugee claims under three different names.
He was ordered deported in 1994, but as a landed immigrant had a right to appeal the order and did so. He abandoned the appeal in 1996.