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Bandidos biker gang jackets are displayed at a joint OPP and Winnipeg Police news conference on June 16, 2006. (John Woods)
Bandidos biker gang jackets are displayed at a joint OPP and Winnipeg Police news conference on June 16, 2006. (John Woods)

Six Bandidos guilty of first-degree murder Add to ...

In what's believed to be the largest number of murder convictions ever produced at a single criminal trial in Canada, six members of the Bandidos biker gang charged in the 2006 mass slaying of eight rivals were all found guilty on multiple counts of first-degree murder Thursday.

After just 14 hours of deliberation, the jury returned 44 verdicts of first-degree murder and four of manslaughter.

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With their lawyers standing in front of them, a custom when a jury's verdict is delivered, the six defendants remained stone-faced as the 48 findings of guilt were read out one by one in Ontario Superior Court.

But near the end, proceedings were interrupted by angry protests from Marcelo Aravena, 33, who from his prisoner's box raised his hand and swore at the jury.

"You guys are fucking goofs, pieces of fucking shit," he yelled.

Then he turned on his lawyer, Tony Bryant. "Fuck you, Tony," he shouted.

A few minutes later, he spat at Mr. Bryant and was hustled out of the packed courtroom by police.

A handful of the dead men's relatives were also in court, two of them in tears. The Ontario Provincial Police officer who headed the long investigation said justice had been served by the outcome.

"Motorcycle gangs are inherently violent and this is a glimpse of just how violent they are," said Detective-Inspector Paul Beesley.

Mr. Aravena and his five co-accused, Wayne Kellestine, 60, Dwight Mushey, 41, Michael Sandham, 39, Frank Mather, 35 and Brett Gardiner, 25, were each charged with eight counts of first-degree murder.

Their eight victims were fellow Bandidos John Muscedere, George Jessome, George Kriarkis, Luis Raposo, Frank Salerno, Paul Sinopoli, Jamie Flanz and Michael Trotta, all from the Greater Toronto Area. The jury's verdicts came 31/2 years after the killings, and seven months after the trial began in a heavily secured 14th-floor courtroom in downtown London.

More than 70 witnesses testified.

Shot to death in April, 2006, the eight victims were all full-patch members or associates of the Texas-based Bandidos motorcycle gang.

The six accused were mostly drawn from the Bandidos' probationary chapter in Winnipeg.

The broad prosecution thesis was that the murders stemmed from an internecine power struggle between the two Canadian chapters, and that the rivalry exploded into violence when the parent Texas group ordered the Toronto Bandidos stripped of their gang colours and membership.

Of the six accused, Mr. Kellestine, Mr. Mushey and Mr. Sandham were each convicted on all eight counts. They were the three shooters in the slaughter.

But in the killing of Mr. Raposo - slain in a gun battle with Mr. Sandham and the first to die - Mr. Mather, Mr. Aravena and Mr. Gardiner were convicted of manslaughter because they took no direct role in his demise.

For the same reason, Mr. Gardiner was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Mr. Muscedere, the second Toronto Bandido to be shot.

Central to the prosecution case was the testimony of a Bandido-turned-informant known as M.H., who witnessed the massacre and was given immunity and a new identity in exchange for his evidence.

Detective Sergeant Mark Loader, M.H.'s handler during the months and years of preparation, said he too was content with the verdicts.

"The jury saw through many things that were put in front of them and concluded that everything he [M.H.]said was truthful," he said.

M.H. "is very happy with the outcome," Det. Sgt. Loader said. "He's also very remorseful about his involvement."

Elgin County Crown attorney and lead prosecutor Kevin Gowdey thanked the jury and voiced condolences to the many relatives of the eight victims.

"It has been a long road for all of us," he said.

Missing from the ebullient prosecution team, however, was former lead investigator Det. Sgt. Dean Morrissey, who died unexpectedly of a stroke in January, at age 43.

The trial heard that the murders all took place at a farm west of London belonging to lead defendant Mr. Kellestine, an ally of the Winnipeg faction.

Stuffed in their own cars, the victims' bloody bodies were then driven a short distance up Highway 401 and dumped in the hamlet of Shedden, where they were swiftly discovered.

The Winnipeggers travelled to the Kellestine farm a couple of weeks before the killings, the trial heard.

Mr. Kellestine appeared unfazed by the verdicts, nodding slightly as his first conviction was read out.

"He's fine," his lawyer, Clay Powell, said later, agreeing his client had long ago resigned himself to the outcome. "He's another day closer to home."

Victim-impact statements will be heard before the convicted men are sentenced Friday afternoon, but trial judge Mr. Justice Thomas Heeney will have little leeway because first-degree murder carries automatic life imprisonment.

With most such convictions, an application to seek parole can be made at the 15-year mark under the "faint hope" clause.

But where two or more people are slain that provision does not apply, and a first-degree murder conviction means the killer must spend at least 25 years behind bars before having any chance of parole.

The next stop for these convicted men will be Millhaven penitentiary west of Kingston, which doubles as a classification centre, where they will be assessed.

From there, they will almost certainly be dispatched to maximum-security federal prisons.

 

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