One of three suspects on trial for murder in the 2007 execution-style killings of six men in a Surrey, B.C., high-rise has pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the death of the man who was operating what the Crown calls a "stash house" for drugs in the building's 15th-floor unit.
Moments after Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le entered the plea in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, the Crown announced the 28-year-old man would no longer face a charge of first-degree murder in the case in which two innocent bystanders were killed. The Crown maintains the conflict pit Mr. Le's Red Scorpions gang against a drug operation run by 21-year-old Corey Lal, the man renting the apartment.
The two innocent bystanders were Christopher Mohan, a 22-year-old man who lived across the hall from the apartment and somehow ended up inside it and among the dead, and 55-year-old Ed Schellenberg, a fireplace repairman who was attending to units in the Balmoral Tower that day. Mr. Schellenberg was last seen heading for the apartment unit on the 15th floor.
"The Crown considers this to be an appropriate resolution in relation to Mr. Le, obviously, or we would not have accepted this disposition, this plea," Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie told reporters outside the downtown courtroom with airport-style security.
"The Crown sees the guilty plea today as a positive step."
But Mr. Mohan's mother was exasperated with the plea.
"It's good to get a guilty plea, but it doesn't mean, for me, that my pain goes away," Eileen Mohan told reporters outside the court complex. "Christopher isn't coming back with this guilty plea."
For the first time since the trial began in September, Mr. Le was alone in the prisoners docks without his co-accused, Cody Rae Haevischer and Matthew James Johnston, both 29.
The three men were arrested in 2009 after a massive police investigation into the slayings – the worst single incident in a series of murders in recent years that have highlighted conflict among criminal gangs largely in the Lower Mainland, but as far afield as Kelowna and Prince George.
With his back to the spectators gallery, including Ms. Mohan and the wife of Mr. Schellenberg, Mr. Le simply said "Guilty" when asked about his plea.
That plea came at the end of a hearing on publication bans in the matter. Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen barred disseminating any photos, depictions or descriptions of Mr. Le.
The case is being heard without a jury.
Mr. Le will return to court on Dec. 17 for a sentencing hearing. However, Mr. MacKenzie said it would be up to the court to decide whether Mr. Le is actually sentenced that day.
On conspiracy to commit murder, the maximum sentence is life in prison, Mr. MacKenzie noted.
The Crown has alleged the motive for the killings was to eliminate rivals in the drug trade and send a message of intimidation to other gangs that they were not to be trifled with.
Six victims were found lying on the floor of the apartment, divided into two groups of three. Nineteen shots were fired from two guns also found in the apartment, the Crown says.
Aside from Mr. Mohan and Mr. Schellenberg, the other victims were Mr. Lal, his 26-year-old brother Michael, Eddie Narong, 22, and 19-year-old Ryan Bartolomeo.
Jamie Bacon is also charged in the case, but is to be tried at a separate proceeding. No date has been set for that trial.