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Surrey Six lawyer critical of Crown deals with former gangsters

Kim Bolan, Postmedia Network

Scene setting photos of the Balmoral Towers, location of the Surrey Six" killing six years ago which goes to trial on Monday, in Surrey, BC., September 27, 2013. (Nick Procaylo/Postmedia Network)

Scene setting photos of the Balmoral Towers, location of the Surrey Six" killing six years ago which goes to trial on Monday, in Surrey, BC., September 27, 2013. (Nick Procaylo/Postmedia Network)

A lawyer who represented one of the Surrey Six killers is concerned over some of the deals prosecutors cut with murderous gangsters who agreed to testify in the case.

Brock Martland, whose client Matthew Johnston was convicted in 2014, has written in a new book that there should be more public discussion about such “deals with the devil.”

"One remarkable feature of the case was the willingness on the part of the Crown and police to make a deal with a murderer," Martland wrote in More Tough Crimes: True cases by Canadian judges and criminal lawyers.

“In British Columbia, historically, the Crown has made deals with accomplices and conspirators, but not with the actual killers.”

But that changed during the investigation into the Oct. 19, 2007 slayings of six men inside a penthouse apartment in Surrey’s Balmoral Tower.

Four of the victims — Corey Lal, his brother Michael, Ryan Bartolomeo and Eddie Narong — were involved in the drug trade.

Gas fitter Ed Schellenberg and neighbour Christopher Mohan were bystanders who got caught in the slaughter.

Martland says in the book that police identified Johnston and co-accused Cody Haevischer as suspects in the murders, but didn’t have enough to charge them.

That changed in late 2007 when a gang killer who can only be identified as Person Y due to a publication ban, agreed to cooperate with police.

“Person Y’s evidence came at a huge cost to the public purse. The police paid him substantially for his cooperation and testimony and even purchased him a high-end Mercedes sedan,” Martland said.

Another killer dubbed Person X, who admitted to shooting three of the victims, also struck a deal and was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder after he turned Crown witness.

But on the eve of the trial — and after a secret hearing that excluded the defence lawyers and their clients — Person X’s evidence was ruled inadmissible.

“His evidence was excluded for reasons that remain a great mystery to the accused men who are now serving life sentences and to the public,” Martland wrote. “As an outsider to that process, it seems that something must have been deeply and fundamentally wrong — so much so that the Crown lost its only eyewitness to the killings.”

He said the issues surrounding Person X would be part of defence arguments during his client’s appeal, to be heard on Sept. 27.

Martland was also critical of a “sweetheart deal” struck mid-trial with another co-accused, Michael Le.

Le would plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. The first-degree murder charge against him would be dropped.

“The court would hear only a highly sanitized account, under which he reluctantly tolerated a murder plot rather than ordered it,” Martland noted. “With double-credit for time served, he would be sentenced to just three years, despite being the founder of the Red Scorpions.”

In the end, Le's testimony was rejected by the judge.

Martland said in recent years, B.C. prosecutors have been striking more deals with nefarious killers in gang cases.

“As a policy matter, should the Crown make deals with actual killers? Should this type of deal making be reserved for cases that are otherwise impossible?” he asked.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Martland said he thinks there should be more public debate about whether the Crown should make these kinds of deals, which are often struck with “just a small circle of people making the decisions.”

“I don’t know that the answer is to draw a bright line and say, 'No, you never cut the deals' or 'The public shouldn’t tolerate this',” he said. “But it should be a broader discussion about what we should or shouldn’t tolerate and when.”

More Tough Crimes, the third in a series, also features articles by other Canadian lawyers and judges writing about high-profile cases.

kbolan@postmedia.com