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Defence argues ex-gang boss' testimony dirty

VANCOUVER - The founder of a notorious British Columbia criminal gang testifying against his alleged former associates in connection with the executions of six people has given testimony that should be found neither reliable nor credible, a lawyer for one of the accused told a judge on Friday.

Lawyer Simon Buck said he intends to argue that evidence given by former Red Scorpions boss Michael Le should be discredited, because Le was already informed about many details of the case.

"Our position is that Mr. Le's statements and testimony has been tainted by the disclosure that he has reviewed," Buck told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge after asking the 29-year-old witness to step out of the courtroom.

The court heard that Le was given access to a slew of disclosure information last year, when he was on trial alongside Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, co-accused of first-degree murder in the so-called Surrey Six slayings. Johnston and Haevischer have pleaded not guilty and remain on trial.

In late November, Le switched his plea and admitted guilt to a lesser charge in a deal with the Crown. He agreed to co-operate as a crucial prosecution witness and testify against the others.

Buck is the first defence lawyer to question Le under cross-examination since the man gave two days of direct evidence earlier this month.

On Friday, Buck presented Le with a range of documents, from previous witness statements to the Crown's theory of the murders, and asked Le whether he recalled reading the material.

Under Canadian law, the accused has the right to the disclosure of all relevant information from the Crown, while witnesses are normally excluded from hearing evidence until after they've testified.

"You prided yourself on knowing all the disclosure in this case, right?" asked Buck, after Le returned to the stand.

Buck said Le had previously told his own client, Haevischer, that he spent all the time in his cell reading files for the case.

"My life was on the line, Mr. Buck. If you're being charged with murder your job and obligation is to review the disclosure and help your lawyer to prepare defence for you," he said.

"Any reasonable man would do that."

Johnston and Haevischer are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of first-degree murder in the drug-related plot linked to shooting deaths in a Surrey, B.C. highrise in October 2007.

Le was arrested the next year in a police drug sting, but fled to Vietnam when he was released without charge. In 2009, police tracked him down in the Philippines and extradited him to Canada, where he's been in custody ever since.

After changing his plea last fall, Le admitted orchestrating a hit on a rival drug trafficker, named Corey Lal, but did not physically carry out the deed. The Crown has alleged two other gang members — one who has already pleaded guilty — shot Lal and five other people to leave no witnesses.

Killed were Lal and his brother Michael, Edward Narong, Ryan Bartolomeo and two bystanders, 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan.

Court heard on Friday that Le was given a laptop and hard drive to access the disclosure documents while awaiting trial. He said he spent a good deal of time reading documents he felt pertained to him in the early days of his custody, but that waned.

He said he made notes and discussed certain elements with his lawyers. He also agreed with Buck that he paid attention during pre-trial deliberations and during the 32 days he attended trial as one of the accused.

The exchange between the pair was at times strained; Buck raised his voice while Le's tone stayed calm and steady even under intense examination.

Le asked Buck to clarify or repeat his question as a response to almost every assertion put to him.

At one point, Buck noted he had already asked his question four or five times.

Le has also agreed to testify against former Red Scorpions leader Jamie Bacon in a separate trial.

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