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B.C. gang leader had murder motive: lawyer

VANCOUVER - A former gang leader testifying about his involvement in a mass killing near Vancouver that left six dead, including two innocent bystanders, had his own motive to murder the intended target despite his insistence that he did not want to go through with the plan, a defence lawyer alleged in court Tuesday.

Lawyer Simon Buck repeatedly attacked the testimony of Michael Le, who became the star witness after a surprise guilty plea in November, and at one point accused him of lying.

Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston are each charged with conspiracy and six counts of murder in the deaths of six people who were found dead in an apartment in Surrey in October 2007. Le, who was one of the leaders of the Red Scorpions gang, was on trial alongside them until he agreed to defect to the Crown.

The Crown alleges the murders were part of a hit on rival drug trafficker Corey Lal, but five others were also killed to eliminate potential witnesses. The Crown's theory is that Le and co-leader Jamie Bacon planned the killing, while Haevischer and Johnston carried it out along with a third man, known only as Person X, who has already pleaded guilty.

While Le has admitted he was part of the conspiracy to kill Lal, during his testimony he insisted it wasn't his idea and that he initially resisted the plan. Le had known Lal's partner, Eddie Narong, who was also killed, since they were teens.

Instead, Le testified it was Bacon who wanted Lal killed, because Lal was badmouthing Bacon and failed to pay a "tax" of $100,000.

But Buck, who is representing Haevischer, suggested Le had his own motive.

Buck alleged Le met with Lal and Narong at some point before the murders at a Joey Tomato's restaurant and demanded the pair buy their cocaine from him.

Buck presented the police statement of a former gang associate who claimed to be at the meeting.

The associate said Le told Lal and Narong they needed to buy their drugs from him, instead of Narong's uncle, according to a transcript read in court. The associate claimed that Le said he would "take care of it" if Lal and Narong refused, Buck told the court.

"He's making an accusation that you had a motive to kill Lal," Buck said. "I'm going to suggest to you that you were upset with Lal and Narong because they failed to purchase their cocaine from you," he continued later.

"I'm telling you that you're wrong, Mr. Buck," replied Le.

Buck also suggested Lal had a longstanding dispute with Narong that dated back to their teens, which Le also denied.

"Eddie was a friend of mine," said Le.

Buck didn't explain precisely how his theory about Le's possible motive fits in with his defence of Haevischer.

However, Buck has spent considerable time suggesting Le tailored his testimony to fit evidence already presented at trial, which Le received through disclosure and heard before his plea, while also attacking Le's assertion that he never wanted to kill Lal in the first place.

When Buck suggested various parts of Le's testimony were incorrect, Le repeatedly responded that he was merely telling "my truth."

"You have a habit of, when you lie, you say, 'I'm telling the truth,'" said Buck.

"That's your opinion, Mr. Buck," replied Le. "Just because things I've said in court are harmful against your client, doesn't mean I'm lying."

Lal, Narong, Lal's brother Michael and Ryan Bartolomeo were shot dead on Oct. 19, 2007, along with 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg and 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan, who were both in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Person X pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2009 and is currently serving a life sentence. He was expected to appear as a witness, but his testimony was ruled inadmissible.

Bacon is also charged with conspiracy and one count of first-degree murder and will be tried separately. Le is also expected to testify at his trial.

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

Le said during his cross-examination that Sek — who, like Le, was a member of the Triads gang — was brought into the conspiracy because he sold heroin to Lal.

Le told the court that Sek's role was to ensure the gang had access to Lal to kill him.

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