Resourceful and always eager to please the boss, Stéphane Gagné was an ambitious hoodlum whose idea of career advancement included shivving a rival with a pick, leaving a strangled man for dead in a snowbank and the unprovoked shooting of prison guards.
Then Mr. Gagné turned informant and applied the same diligence to testifying against his former biker brothers and helping convict their fearsome chieftain, Maurice (Mom) Boucher, the leader of the Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels in Quebec.
Today, 15 years into a life sentence, one of Canada’s most infamous killers says he is rehabilitated and ready for a chance to apply for parole.
“I am no longer a violent person and I no longer represent a threat to society,” Mr. Gagné says in an 11-page application to the Quebec Superior Court. “All the aims of my sentencing have been met: dissuasion, punishment and treatment.”
The prospect of Mr. Gagné leaving the penitentiary troubles Stéphane Lemaire, president of the Quebec prison guards’ union. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, he acknowledged that Mr. Gagné’s turn as an informant “played a positive role” in the arrest of those responsible for the murder of two correctional agents in 1997.
However, Mr. Gagné’s part in those killings is so inexcusable that the union will “absolutely not be in favour of paroling this individual,” Mr. Lemaire said.
Mr. Gagné’s court bid is the first step in a controversial procedure for convicted murderers to apply to become eligible for parole after 15 years rather than 25. Sometimes called the faint-hope clause, Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code was repealed by the federal government in 2011.
Mr. Gagné, now 43, was sentenced before the law changed, so he can still apply.
The Harper government eliminated the clause at the request of victims’ rights groups. But cases like Mr. Gagné’s underline how the procedure was an inducement for criminals to co-operate.
Being left with the option of using it was the only favour Mr. Gagné got from the authorities after he confessed his role in the deaths of the two prison guards, which he said Mr. Boucher ordered. The crime was so serious that Mr. Gagné could not have been charged with a lesser offence, even though he was willing to testify against Mr. Boucher.
However, the Crown attorney indicted Mr. Gagné on only one count of first-degree murder so he could one day apply under the faint-hope clause. He could not do so if convicted of more murders.
Mr. Boucher was acquitted at his first trial after the defence hammered at Mr. Gagné’s credibility. But after an appeal, a new trial was ordered. A more savvy prosecution and Mr. Gagné’s increasing confidence as a witness helped convict Mr. Boucher in 2002.
Mr. Gagné – a man once so dedicated to the Hells Angels that he named his son Harley David – testified in eight biker trials over a decade, repeatedly facing scorching cross-examination.
Superior Court Justice Jerry Zigman, who presided over one of those trials, wrote in a ruling that Mr. Gagné was “a ruthless killer and a thug … an unsavoury person” but concluded “he was telling the truth.”
Mr. Gagné began his criminal career selling drugs at age 13. His first conviction was for burglary when he was 15. His judicial record, appended to his court application, lists 36 different criminal counts.
By the 1990s, he had decided to side with the Hells Angels in a bloody turf war between the more established biker club and traffickers allied with the upstart Rock Machine.
When he went to jail in 1994 for trafficking, Mr. Gagné was greeted by three Rock Machine supporters, who told him to stomp on a photo of Mr. Boucher. He refused and was beaten up. He later avenged himself by stabbing one of his assailants with a shiv.
Impressed with his loyalty, Mr. Boucher took Mr. Gagné under his wing on his release from prison and got him involved in murder plots.
One early victim was Christian Bellemare, a former associate who had run up a debt. Mr. Gagné shot and strangled him as Mr. Bellemare pleaded for his life. Left unconscious in a snowbank, Mr. Bellemare survived.
Next, Mr. Boucher ordered Mr. Gagné to plan the random killing of prison guards with two more senior bikers, André (Toots) Tousignant and Paul (Fonfon) Fontaine. Mr. Gagné testified that it was a twisted plot by Mr. Boucher to force his men to commit crimes so heinous they could not turn informant.
In June, 1997, Mr. Gagné and Mr. Tousignant followed and shot dead Diane Lavigne as she left work at Montreal’s Bordeaux Prison.
Three months later, Mr. Gagné and Mr. Fontaine fired on a prison bus, killing guard Pierre Rondeau and wounding another, Robert Corriveau. Mr. Gagné testified that he was aiming at Mr. Corriveau but his pistol jammed.
He was about to be promoted to full membership in the Rockers, a puppet club of the Nomads, when he was arrested that December.
When a defence lawyer suggested during a trial that Mr. Gagné was not much of a killer, the former hit man replied with pride: “In six months, two prison guards and the murder attempt on Bellemare, seems to me it’s not too bad. Bellemare, we put bullets in his body, then we strangled him. It’s not my fault he stayed alive.”
A judge will now decide whether to refer his application to a jury to determine if he should be able to apply for parole. If it goes to a jury, a hearing is not likely before the fall, said Mr. Gagné’s lawyer, Sandra Brouillette.
The Superior Court judge assigned to the file is André Vincent, once the prosecutor who charged Mr. Gagné with murder, so the case might have to be referred to another magistrate.
If he gets parole, Mr. Gagné will remain a marked man because he betrayed the Hells Angels. At a past court appearance, he revealed that the authorities had agreed to change his appearance upon his release.
With files from Les Perreaux