Biker murder case in hands of jury

October 28, 2009
Timothy Appleby – Globe & Mail

Nearly four years after eight bodies found in field near London, Ont., six-man, six-woman panel begins deliberations

Three and a half years after the bloodied bodies of eight outlaw bikers were discovered in a farmer’s field west of here, marking one of the worst and perhaps clumsiest slaughters in Canadian gangland history, the fate of the six accused killers now rests with the jury.

Each of the six was a full-patch member or close associate of the Bandidos, a Texas-based motorcycle gang whose two small Canadian franchises self-destructed in an orgy of bloodletting and criminal charges. Each has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder.

After more than two days of detailed instruction from Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney and seven months of testimony and legal argument, the six-man, six-woman jury retired this morning to begin deliberations. Foremost among those instructions was a reminder that however distasteful the biker lifestyle might seem, the jury’s task is to render verdicts based solely on the evidence.

“They can only be convicted for what they do, not what they are,” Judge Heeney said of the defendants.

Nor is it an offence to simply witness a crime, he explained. “Being a spectator does not make a person liable.”

In all, the jurors will have to digest the words of 72 witnesses and assess more than 500 exhibits.

But as in many trials, some moments escaped their scrutiny.

And a particularly telling one occurred in July, during the damning testimony of the star prosecution witness, a Bandido-turned-informant known as M.H., who in exchange for immunity and a new life in Ontario’s witness protection program provided a graphic, first-hand account of the massacre. M.H. told of the victims being summoned to a late-night club meeting at the isolated Dutton-Dunwich farmhouse of lead defendant Wayne Kellestine.

He described how seven of the eight were held captive in the barn for hours before being led out to their cars, one by one, and executed. (The first to die, Luis Raposo, perished in a gun battle with defendant Michael Sandham, who has admitted killing him.)

M.H. also recounted how, as dawn broke, the convoy of vehicles and its ghastly cargo was driven 14 kilometres up Highway 401 to the tiny hamlet of Shedden, where they were hurriedly abandoned.

Then, midway through M.H.’s evidence, with the jury absent, one of the prosecutors rose to lodge a complaint. Defendant Marcelo Aravena, he said, had been spied in his prisoner’s box making threatening gestures toward M.H. – cocking his hand into the shape of a gun and pretending to shoot.

Mr. Aravena, 33, was warned by the judge to desist, on pain of being ejected from the heavily guarded courtroom, and M.H.’s testimony resumed.

The episode spoke volumes about what the six accused likely see as an act of betrayal by their one-time brother-in-arms. And for the most part, the powerful evidence heard attrial matched what was aired at the 2007 preliminary hearing.

M.H.’s testimony remained the linchpin of the prosecution case. But there were also wiretaps, photos, forensic evidence including DNA and much else.

On almost 60 points, Elgin County Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey told the jury in his closing remarks, M.H.’s version of events was corroborated by other means.

The core prosecution theory was not complicated.

The Bandidos are a global organization, totalling several thousand followers. But the Canadian component at the time of the killings amounted to less than 40 members and close associates: a full chapter from the Toronto area and a probationary one in Winnipeg.

Hostility festered between the two groups, the Crown said, and the violence at the farmhouse of Mr. Kellestine (an ally of the Winnipeg chapter) exploded after the parent organization in Texas ordered the Toronto Bandidos stripped of their membership.

“Pulling patches at gunpoint” was the way Judge Heeney summarized the allegation.

On trial along with Mr. Aravena and Mr. Kellestine, 60, are Mr. Sandham, 40, Dwight Mushey, 41, Frank Mather, 36, and Brett Gardner, 25.

All but Mr. Kellestine and Mr. Mather – a boarder at the farmhouse when the killings took place – are from the Winnipeg area.

So too is M.H. the informant, who together with the other Winnipeg Bandidos travelled to the Kellestine farm a couple of weeks prior to the murders, before returning home. There, M.H. made a call to a Winnipeg policeman with whom he had long had a secret relationship, and began talking about his friends.

The defendants are charged with killing George Jessome, 52; George Kriarkis, 28; John Muscedere, 48, the Bandidos Canada national president; Mr. Raposo, 41; Frank Salerno, 43; Paul Sinopoli, 30; Michael Trotta, 21; and Jamie Flanz, 37.

All six accused are charged jointly in the eight deaths, but only three are alleged to have been shooters: Mr. Kellestine, Mr. Sandham and Mr. Mushey.

In urging the jury to return 48 guilty verdicts, however, Mr. Gowdey described the other three as active participants in the bloodbath – all six, for example, donned two pairs of gloves prior to the murders, as did M.H. – and said all were equally culpable.

M.H., too, would have been on trial for murder had he not decided to be an informant, he noted.

Mr. Gowdey cited two factors that he said warranted convictions for first- rather than second-degree murder: Advance planning and the fact that all but one of the victims spent their last hours alive as prisoners, on the floor of the Kellestine barn.

Two of the accused, Mr. Sandham and Mr. Aravena, testified in their own defence.

Both insisted the patch-pulling was never meant to turn into mass murder and both said they went along out of fear of Mr. Kellestine, a career criminal variously described during the trial as a monster, a bloodthirsty psychopath and “the general.”

“If we kill one (of the Toronto Bandidos) we kill them all,” M.H. recounted Mr. Kellestine saying, shortly before the Toronto Bandidos began rolling up to his farmhouse that Friday night

Yet as Judge Heeney wrapped up his instructions, Mr. Kellestine looked curiously unperturbed.

When the judge cracked a small joke near the end of his instructions, he flashed a broad grin.

For their part, police appear to view the six chiefly with contempt. “We were chasing them within a few hours, they had a rat (informant) with them, and they left the bodies in that field because they ran out of gas,” one officer said.

“Now how smart is that?”

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