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Accused seeks to reduce murder charges for deaths of three women and one girl

Victims Jill Stuchenko, Natasha Montgomery and Cynthia Maas are shown in B.C. RCMP handout photos. Mounties in Prince George, B.C., say they've connected the deaths of four women to a suspected serial killer.After a 10-month investigation, police have charged Cody Legebokoff with three counts of first-degree murder.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The lawyer for a British Columbia man accused of killing three women and a 15-year-old girl has asked the jury to convict his client of second-degree murder, not first-degree murder as charged.

James Heller said Tuesday his client, 24-year-old Cody Legebokoff, admitted in B.C. Supreme Court last week that he was present when the women died but that he didn't murder them and that the girl killed herself.

Mr. Legebokoff testified that the women were killed by a drug dealer and two associates, and he handed them the murder weapons. But he refused to name his alleged accomplices, saying he didn't want to go to prison being labelled a "rat."

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Mr. Legebokoff is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jill Stuchenko and Cynthia Maas, both 35, Natasha Montgomery, 23, and 15-year-old Loren Leslie.

Mr. Heller told the jury there is reasonable doubt that the murders were planned and deliberate.

He said he didn't expect jurors to believe every word of Mr. Legebokoff's testimony, but he hoped they would consider the plausibility of some of his statements.

Mr. Heller went through evidence indicating the women were drug users and that Ms. Stuchenko and Ms. Montgomery had drug debts.

One witness testified he paid off a $500 debt for Ms. Stuchenko and another said Ms. Montgomery's head was shaved because she owed money.

Whether Ms. Maas was in debt was more questionable, according to the evidence Mr. Heller reviewed.

Mr. Legebokoff told police that Loren Leslie, a partially blind 15-year-old girl, went crazy and began hitting herself with a pipe wrench and then appeared to have stabbed herself with a knife before she was found on the night of Nov. 27, 2010, near a gravel pit north of Vanderhoof, B.C.

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He said that in a fit of panic he hit Loren on the head before dragging her body into the bush and then fled the scene in his pickup truck. Shortly after he drove onto Highway 27, an RCMP officer pulled him over for speeding and noticed blood on him and in his truck.

Mr. Heller noted that Loren had been released from 18 days in psychiatric care less than a week before her death and an RCMP officer found evidence that she had been overdosing on medication prescribed to her on the day of her release.

The psychiatrist who was working with Loren "seemed to minimize a little bit what appeared to be some of the problematic aspects of her mental defect," Mr. Heller said, telling jurors they did not have to "accept every last aspect of [an expert witness's testimony] as gospel."

Mr. Heller reviewed evidence showing Mr. Legebokoff was a drug user who consumed cocaine and crack cocaine.

He also noted that despite an exhaustive search of Mr. Legebokoff's truck, no evidence of Ms. Montgomery or Ms. Stuchenko was found in the vehicle.

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