A judge declared a mistrial Friday in the case of a former Hells Angels lawyer who was charged with gangsterism and obstructing justice.
Now, Benoit Cliche's legal battle starts anew beginning with a return to court in Montreal next Friday to have a date set for a new trial.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Guy Boilard declared the mistrial when the jury said it could not reach a verdict after eight stressful days of deliberations.
Deliberations were so intense that one juror was excused earlier this week because of health problems when she said her blood pressure had risen significantly.
On Friday afternoon, Judge Boilard thanked the remaining jury members for their efforts and told them the trial would begin from scratch with a new jury.
“It happens sometimes that unanimity is not possible and continuing to deliberate won't change that,” Judge Boilard said.
The case hinged on the testimony of Andre Bernier, a drug dealer turned police informant, who said Mr. Cliche was a messenger for gang boss Steven (Bull) Bertrand and also mediated drug disputes between gang members.
“This case rests entirely on the evidence of Mr. Bernier,” Judge Boilard told the jurors in his final instructions before they began deliberations.
“If you don't believe him, you don't have much choice (but) to acquit Mr. Cliche.”
Mr. Cliche's defence team contended Mr. Bernier made a career of lying, was paid $675,000 by police to betray his former colleagues and could not be trusted.
Judge Boilard told jurors they shouldn't throw aside Bernier's testimony just because he was paid.
“Obviously when the police want to infiltrate a criminal organization, they have to use birds of a feather to get inside,” Judge Boilard said. “If they didn't, their rate of success would be even worse than it is now.”
The Crown also contended that Mr. Cliche tried to derail a police investigation by urging Mr. Bernier's brother, Claude, to refuse to testify. Crown prosecutor Pierre Proulx described how Mr. Cliche was unusually tight with his clients while he represented several Hells Angels. Mr. Cliche was childhood friends with Mr. Bertrand, his client and a gang boss.
Mr. Cliche even danced in a group with Hells Angels boss Maurice (Mom) Boucher in a 1999 wedding.
One juror asked Judge Boilard where to draw the line between a lawyer's legal representation and possible criminal activity. Judge Boilard cautioned the jurors not to make too much of personal connections, and reminded them that lawyers must obey the same law as any other citizen.
With the jury unable to reach a verdict, Mr. Proulx made a last ditch effort Friday to get Judge Boilard to bring the jurors back and instruct them that Bernier was credible and to disregard the defence's assertion the witness was nothing more than a liar.
But Judge Boilard said it was too late to change a substantial part of his directives to the jury.
“We can't re-do the trial,” Judge Boilard told Mr. Proulx.
Defence lawyer Jacques Larochelle boomed the Crown's request was blatant pandering to a courtroom full of journalists that would make it that much harder for his client the next time around.
Mr. Larochelle argued the Crown had ample opportunity to shoot down the assertions themselves during the trial and never did.
He suggested during the proceedings that zealous police used a dishonest informant in a special attempt to destroy “poor Mr. Cliche.”
“There was a clear will with the police to take down a defence lawyer,” Mr. Larochelle told jurors.
“For police, defence lawyers are the enemy.”
All sides left Montreal courthouse without speaking to reporters.
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