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Six people shot dead in a Surrey apartment building six years ago had their heads covered when they were shot, a court in Vancouver heard today.
Three men accused of the killings, which took place in a Surrey highrise in 2007, all pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges at the opening of the trial on Monday morning in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
Matthew James Johnston and Cody Rae Haevischer are charged with six counts of first-degree murder and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le is facing one charge of first-degree murder.
Two other men charged in the case, Jamie Kyle Bacon and Sophon Sek, will be tried separately at a later date.
Prosecutors say they intend to prove that Johnston and Haevischer went to the apartment to kill victim Corey Lal because he failed to meet a deadline to repay a $100,000 drug debt.
They say the accused killed the other five people in the apartment so there would be no witnesses to the murder of Lal.
Prosecutors said the six bodies were found in two groups of three inside the apartment. A total of 19 shots were fired in the massacre, which took place around 2:40 p.m. PT on Oct. 19, 2007.
The six all had their heads covered and shots were fired directly into the backs of the heads of three of the victims. One other was shot in the back, another in the head, and one in the face and neck.
The three accused were all members of the Red Scorpions gang, the Crown said.
But only two, Johnston and Haevischer, are charged with the first-degree murders of two victims — Christopher Mohan, 22, and Ed Schellenberg, 55 — whom police have described as bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A grieving mother
Outside the courthouse, Eileen Mohan, whose son Christopher was killed, spoke to reporters before the trial began Monday morning.
"I've been waiting for five years and 11 months. And I'm so glad that the day has finally come,” she said.
Inside, Mohan took a front-row seat for the trial where the Crown laid out its case by showing graphic photographs of two groups of three men, their heads covered, lying face down on the floor.
Mohan said she quickly turned away after catching a glance of the photograph of her son's body.
Later, Mohan told reporters outside the courthouse that it was difficult seeing those photos.
"I looked once and then I looked away," she said.
"I want to remember my son the way he was. Not in this state.… in blood amongst strangers that he never knew … and people that he never should have died with,” she said.
6 victims found dead in highrise
First responders found six men dead in a 15th floor apartment suite in the 9800 block of East Whalley Ring Road.
Firefighters, who were first on the scene, initially thought they were responding to a deadly gas leak, but when they arrived, they found the bodies of the six men.
Four of the victims, Ryan Bartolomeo,19, brothers Michael Lal, 26, and Cory Lal, 21, and Edward Narong, 22, were described by police as having criminal lifestyles.
Mohan and Schellenberg were described as bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In April 2009, a man pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder for killing Mohan, Bartolomeo and Michael Lal, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the six slayings, and was sentenced to life in prison.
- Jamie Bacon has been charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Corey Lal and conspiracy to murder charges.
- Sophon Sek is facing a manslaughter charge.
In addition, four RCMP officers are facing charges, including breach of trust, obstruction of justice and fraud, dating back to their handling of the Surrey Six slayings.
B.C.'s criminal justice branch appointed Victoria lawyer Christopher Considine as a special prosecutor in the investigation of the officers.
Crown spokeswoman Samantha Hulme said the trial is expected to take one year as the judge hears from as many as 100 witnesses.