Five of six men executed in a Surrey apartment building in 2007 were killed to ensure there were no witnesses to the murder of a sixth man – and intended target – alleged lead Crown prosecutor Mark Levitz on the opening day of trial for three men charged in the Surrey Six murders.
The trial of Cody Rae Haevischer, Matthew Johnston, and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le began Monday before a packed courtroom in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
They are charged in connection with the Oct. 19, 2007 mass murder of six men in the Balmoral Tower apartment building in North Surrey.
Two of the dead – 22-year-old Christopher Mohan of Surrey and 55-year-old Ed Schellenberg of Abbotsford – were innocent victims, while the four others, Ryan Bartolomeo, Edward Narong, and brothers Corey and Michael Lal, were gang members with ties to the drug trade who were known to police.
Schellenberg, 55, was repairing gas fire places in the building on the day of the murders, and Mohan lived in a neighbouring apartment.
Haevischer and Johnston both face six first-degree murder charges in connection with the deaths of all six victims, while Le has one first-degree murder charge related to Corey Lal’s death. All three face one conspiracy to kill charge for Lal’s murder.
The three accused pleaded not guilty to all of the charges on Monday.
In his opening statement, Levitz said Johnston, Le, and Haevischer were all part of the Red Scorpions gang whose primary objective was to traffic drugs and gain control over the Lower Mainland’s drug trade.
Corey Lal was a rival drug trafficker who was operating on their turf, said Levitz.
He said the Balmoral Tower apartment was Lal’s “stash house” where drugs were cooked and large amounts of cash were kept.
Jamie Bacon, also a Red Scorpion who is being tried separately in the case, demanded money from Lal, alleges Levitz. When Lal didn’t deliver, the court was told Bacon and Le ordered Johnston, Haevischer, and another man (who cannot be identified under a publication ban), to murder Corey Lal.
Levitz said the accused murderers gained entrance to the building through the parkade, using a fob given to Johnston by another gang associate who also lived in the building.
Levitz said the evidence would show that the six deceased were found lying in the living room of apartment 1505. They were divided into two groups of three – one with Corey Lal, Narong and Schellenberg, and one with Michal Lal, Bartolomeo and Mohan.
All were found side-by-side, face-down, Levitz said, except Michael Lal, and all suffered two or more gunshots to the head.
Levitz contended two handguns – a Glock and an Ultrastar – were used in the six murders and there were a total of 19 shots fired. He also argued the victims were forcibly confined and had their heads covered when they were killed and that the evidence will show there was “obvious planning and deliberation” before the shots were fired.
Outside court, Eileen Mohan (left), mother of innocent victim Chris Mohan, said being in court and hearing new details of her son’s murder is extremely difficult.
“I wish I wasn’t here and Christopher was here with me, but I have to see this through,” she said,
In court, the three accused sat side-by-side in separate Plexiglass prisoner boxes. All were well-dressed and listened carefully to the court proceedings. Le took notes.
Mohan sat on the opposite side of the courtroom gallery from the three accused men.
“I don’t think they warranted my presence,” she said. “Honestly, I felt they were non-existent.”
Members of Schellenberg’s family were present in court Monday, but did not speak to the media.
The trial, being heard by Madam Justice Catherine Wedge, is expected to take as long as one year, and involves between eight and nine Crown prosecutors and approximately nine defence lawyers.