Charles Gagne was an ambitious young man.
In 2000, 28 years old and fresh out of Collins Bay Penitentiary on parole after serving part of a sentence for armed robbery, he wasted little time adding to a criminal résumé that he says extended far beyond what the police and the courts knew.
"Bank robbery, contracts for setting fires. [I did]a lot more than what's on my record," Mr. Gagne told a jury in a Brampton, Ont., courtroom yesterday. Most of his adult life had been spent in prison.
He was released to a halfway house in Kingston, Ont., and immediately made an end-run around parole authorities, signing out for weekends to "visit family" in Ottawa, checking in at the police station there, and then heading straight for Toronto, where he hooked up with his two closest buddies from prison.
"All I lived for was crime and trying to rise up the criminal ranks," he explained. "I had a kamikaze attitude. I do what a lot of people wouldn't do."
Through his prison pals, Mr. Gagne testified, he was put in contact with Manuel (Mike) DaSilva. And it is Mr. DaSilva who faces two first-degree murder charges for allegedly hiring Mr. Gagne to murder former boxer Eddie Melo and his friend, Joao (Johnny) Pavao in April, 2001. After jury selection, his trial began yesterday.
Mr. Gagne's guilt is already established. In 2003, as part of a bargain with the Crown, he pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, and received a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 12 years. In return, he agreed to testify against Mr. DaSilva, who owns an auto repair shop and car wash on Ossington Avenue in Toronto.
Although one of his victims was well known both to sports fans and to the police, Mr. Gagne had no idea who Mr. Melo was. He didn't know that Mr. Melo was once a teenaged star in the ring, first in Montreal, then in his hometown of Toronto, famous for his all out, aggressive style. He didn't know that after finally retiring from boxing, Mr. Melo -- as Crown lawyer Steve Sherriff told the jury during his opening remarks yesterday -- "was no saint himself," involved in loan sharking and extortion.
Mr. Gagne told the jury that Mr. Da Silva offered him a simple business proposition. Kill Mr. Melo, and be paid $75,000. The issue between Mr. Melo and Mr. DaSilva, Mr. Sherriff told the jury, was "all about power and money" and influence in the Toronto Portuguese community.
"I've never killed anyone before," Mr. Gagne testified, "so I didn't commit myself [right away] But I know that's what you had to do to rise up in the ranks."
He then described the killings for the jury as calmly and dispassionately as someone discussing what they had for dinner the night before.
Mr. Melo was about to be deported to his native Portugal (though he lived most of his life in Canada, he had never taken out citizenship), so time was of the essence. Mr. Gagne said that, along with his prison friends, he stalked Mr. Melo at his home, and at the daycare centre where he dropped off his young son most days. (Mr. Gagne testified that he was unwilling to kill Mr. Melo at the daycare centre. "There's no way I'm doing this in front of kids.") It was decided that their best option was a sports bar in Mississauga, Ont., that Mr. Melo frequented.
After a bumbling lead-up that included car failure and a would-be accomplice too strung out on drugs to be of any use, Mr. Gagne testified that he and Mr. DaSilva drove to the sports bar at around 6:30 p.m., where they saw Mr. Melo talking to someone in his car in the parking lot. They drove by the car to confirm who it was, and worried immediately that the man with Mr. Melo -- Mr. Pavao -- had seen them.
Mr. Gagne testified that Mr. DaSilva said to him: " 'He seen us. Do what you have to do.' I took that as: 'Get rid of him.' "
Mr. Gagne said that he then walked up to the car and first shot Mr. Pavao in the head with a .38 snub-nosed revolver. "Then Mr. Melo tried to press the gas," Mr. Gagne said, "and I started shooting him. I shot him twice."
After the shooting, Mr. Gagne testified, Mr. DaSilva wasn't there to meet him, as they had planned. Later, he told the court, Mr. DaSilva asked him for specific details about the shooting, "so no one else will take the credit for it. Because Eddie Melo had a lot of enemies."
According to Mr. Gagne's testimony, the botched escape from the scene was only the beginning of the falling-out between the two men. Mr. Gagne said that Mr. DaSilva didn't pay the last $25,000 owed for the killing, reneged on the promise to buy him a trailer and didn't open doors for him in the world of organized crime.
"I killed for the man," he testified. "So I expected a little help with work, a little help with making money. A cut of the action, basically"
"A lot of promises were made and never kept," Mr. Gagne said, as he looked directly at Mr. DaSilva. "Or I wouldn't be sitting here right now."
The trial continues on Monday.