Accused in Mountie killings plead guilty to manslaughter

Two men charged with first-degree murder in the 2005 deaths of four RCMP officers have pleaded guilty in an Edmonton courtroom to lesser charges of manslaughter.

Two men accused of helping James Roszko kill four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005 pleaded guilty in an Edmonton courtroom Monday to lesser charges of manslaughter.

The families of the slain officers as well as others in the packed courtroom listened as Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman, both from Barrhead, Alta., pleaded guilty to four counts each of manslaughter in front of a Court of Queen's Bench justice.

The men were originally charged with first-degree murder and scheduled to go on trial in April.

After their pleas were entered, an agreed statement of facts was read for the court record. It revealed the events leading up to March 3, 2005, when constables Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston were gunned down by James Roszko at Roszko's farm in Mayerthorpe.

Hennessey supplied Roszko with ammunition and a rifle belonging to Hennessey's grandfather, which was not used to kill the officers.

Then in the early morning hours, Hennessey and Cheeseman drove Roszko to his farm, where officers had been investigating a marijuana grow-op and auto "chop shop" in a Quonset hut, court was told.

Hennessey was involved in the grow-op on Roszko's property, the court heard.   Hennessey is married to Cheeseman's sister.

On Roszko's instructions, the two men dropped Roszko off at a field across from the Quonset hut between one and three in the morning.

Roszko grabbed the rifle from the back seat of the car, put socks over his boots, and walked off, the court heard.

Roszko had ranted in the car about wanting to "get even" with the RCMP.  Both men knew an armed confrontation could very likely take place, but when Cheeseman suggested they call RCMP to warn them, Hennessey talked him out of it because he was afraid of retaliation from Roszko, the statement said.

The RCMP officers all died from multiple gunshot wounds. Roszko then killed himself.

A firearms expert later discovered that Const. Johnston had been able to shoot at Roszko. 

The bullet hit the butt plate of the handgun that was tucked in Roszko's waistband. But Johnston wasn't able to take another shot. His handgun jammed because it didn't properly discharge the shell casing

Victims in court to read impact statements

Families of the slain officers wiped away tears as the statement of facts was read.

There were more tears shed in the afternoon as family members including Const. Johnston's mother, Grace Johnston, read their victim impact statements in court.

The judge was expected to hear 13 statements in total. Sentencing submissions will continue on Tuesday.

Justice was served, even though pleas were entered on the lesser charges of manslaughter, Orest Yereniuk, chief Crown prosecutor, for regional and general prosecutions, told reporters.

"The decision was made in this case, after full and careful review, that there wasn't a reasonable likelihood of conviction on first-degree murder," Yereniuk said outside the courthouse.

"At that point, we have to cease that prospect or that prosecution, and manslaughter was the alternative count in this case and the matter was resolved by way of guilty pleas, four counts of manslaughter by each accused, so justice was served."

Many police officers have been waiting to hear the facts of the case, RCMP spokesperson Wayne Oakes said.

"I think today for law enforcement, for the people that worked with the fallen four, the people that knew them, the people that to this day continue to stand beside them that, again, they will also see today as a day that justice was served," he said.

Hennessey and Cheeseman, who had both been out on bail, were taken into custody after their pleas were entered.

Defence lawyers are expected to ask for a five-year sentence for each, man, while the Crown is expected to request a sentence in the range of 10 to 15 years.

Hennessey and Cheeseman were arrested in July 2007 and originally charged under Sec. 21 of the Criminal Code, entitled "Parties to Offences," which says that a person who helps another person commit a crime can be found guilty of the same crime.