A man who tearfully told The Globe and Mail he felt ill after hearing of the deaths of four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005 is now charged with first-degree murder in connection to the case.
Shawn Hennessey, 28, and Dennis Cheeseman, 23, are each charged as parties to the offences committed by James Roszko, a known criminal with a history of threatening police, who shot the four officers before taking his own life.
Alberta RCMP said yesterday the arrests were the result of a lengthy undercover investigation into the darkest day in the force's history.
Mr. Hennessey, a married father of two, was identified as a person of interest early on. Unproved allegations contained in search warrants said Mr. Hennessey, who worked at a Kal Tire automotive shop in nearby Barrhead, Alta., sold marijuana for Mr. Roszko, which he denied.
On March 2, 2005, RCMP were called to Mr. Roszko's farm to assist bailiffs executing a civil court order. Mr. Roszko fled the property in a pickup, and police found a marijuana grow operation and an automotive chop shop. As police secured the property, several calls were placed from Mr. Roszko's cellphone to Kal Tire and to the cellphone assigned to Kal Tire's service truck. Mr. Roszko also placed a call to his aunt that afternoon, and her call display showed the name S. Hennessey.
The following morning, a heavily-armed Mr. Roszko returned to the farm and killed the four officers with a high-powered semi-automatic assault rifle. He then shot himself in the chest.
In 2006, Mr. Hennessey denied any links to the crime, saying he didn't know why Mr. Roszko called him that day.
"I guess he didn't have any friends. I can't tell you why he called me," he said.
One of the weapons Mr. Roszko was carrying that day was a rifle registered to Mr. Hennessey's grandfather, which he said had been stolen four months earlier. Mr. Hennessey said he didn't know how Mr. Roszko got hold of the weapon.
"I've never been in a situation like this before," Mr. Hennessey told The Globe a year ago, tears welling in his eyes.
"I've never been accused of such huge things. This is absolutely beyond me."
The RCMP said Mr. Hennessey was arrested without incident yesterday. They refused to say how the two accused men are linked, nor would they discuss their relationship to Mr. Roszko. They said both men are "known to police," but would not say how they are known, or whether they have criminal records. They would neither confirm nor deny whether further arrests or charges are forthcoming.
Yesterday's arrests are a significant breakthrough for the force, which has spent more than $2-million investigating the Mayerthorpe killings and has deployed between 40 and 200 officers on this case since 2005.
The news came as a shock to Grace Johnston, mother of slain Constable Leo Johnston, CTV reported last night.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," Ms. Johnston said. "In the pit of my stomach I always knew there had to have been somebody else."
The announcement comes only days after intense scrutiny of the appointment of William Elliott, a bureaucrat, to the post of RCMP commissioner. The Mayerthorpe announcement, made in front of a memorial to fallen officers, was overseen by Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney, Superintendent of K Division, one of the senior uniformed officers passed over for the commissioner's post.
The two accused will appear in court on July 12. They each face four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Constable Anthony Gordon, Constable Johnston, Constable Brock Myrol and Constable Peter Schiemann. The two men were not at the farm at the time of the shootings.
In making the announcement, the RCMP made reference to Section 21 of the Criminal Code, which defines parties to offences.
The law says that anyone is a party to an offence who actually commits it; does or omits to do anything for the purpose of aiding any person to commit it; or abets any person in committing it.
The provincial government has called a fatality inquiry into the circumstances leading to the deaths of the four officers, but it cannot be convened until the ongoing criminal investigation is completed.
The RCMP said in a release yesterday that they have not implemented any significant policy changes, nor have any disciplinary actions been launched, as a result of the Mayerthorpe shootings.
March 2, 2005
afternoon: Bailiffs head to James Roszko's farm to execute a civil order to seize a Ford truck.
3:30 p.m.: En route, the bailiffs contact Mayerthorpe RCMP for assistance. When bailiffs arrive at the property, they find the gate locked and a man believed to be Mr. Roszko departing in a white pick-up truck.
5:30 p.m.: Bailiffs search Mr. Roszko's property and find what appears to be an automotive chop shop and a marijuana grow operation in a Quonset hut. Additional support is brought in to secure the scene.
7:55 p.m.: Patrols begin to scour the area for Mr. Roszko.
11:30 p.m.: Constables Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston are recalled to guard the scene at the farm.
March 3, 2005
3:30 a.m.: Officials remove 280 marijuana plants from the property.
9:10 a.m.: Constable Peter Schiemann volunteers, on his way to Edmonton to purchase supplies, to drop off Constable Brock Myrol at the Roszko property to relieve Constable Gordon. Members of the Edmonton auto-theft unit arrive at the Roszko property and see Constables Gordon, Johnston, Myrol and Schiemann walking into the Quonset hut. Moments later, gunfire is heard from inside the hut. Mr. Roszko exits and fires shots at one of the auto-theft officers, narrowly missing. The officer returns fire at Mr. Roszko, who returns to the hut.
10:19 a.m.: The Emergency Response Team is called to the scene, as are explosive units, police dogs and a helicopter.
2 p.m.: A remote-controlled robot, normally used by the explosive-disposal unit, is sent into the hut.
2:15 p.m.: Emergency workers enter the hut and find the bodies of the four RCMP officers and Mr. Roszko.
July 8, 2007
RCMP announce they've charged Dennis Cheeseman, 23, and Shawn Hennessey, 28, with four counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings.
Editorial Research and CP
RCMP Briefing documents
The RCMP took the unusual step of releasing its media briefing notes along with the press release related to yesterday's announcement of two arrests in the killings of four police officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta.
The document, entitled "Arrest and charges in Mayerthorpe investigation - Anticipated media questions and RCMP responses," provides a rare glimpse of how police prepare to deliver their message to the public.
Q9: Did you obtain direct evidence to suggest this accused assisted Roszko in getting back to the Quonset?
A: Again, you are asking me to speak on an aspect of the investigation that may or may not be evidence required for the court process, I cannot provide such details at this time.
Q19: Has the RCMP been able to identify any internal shortcomings?
A: With my answer I must be careful not to interfere with or be perceived as interfering with any of the ongoing investigations or pending Fatality Inquiry. Thus far the RCMP has not implemented any significant policy changes nor have any disciplinary actions been started as a result of the events that occurred at Mayerthorpe.