The Alberta Court of Appeal has upheld the sentences of the two men convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe in March 2005.


The Alberta Court of Appeal said Monday it was upholding the sentence for Dennis Cheeseman, shown after a previous court appearance, and Shawn Hennessey. The two pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2009 in the deaths of four Mounties, who were gunned down by James Roszko near Mayerthorpe in 2005. ((CBC))

A three-judge panel dismissed the men's requests in a 2-1 decision.

Dennis Cheeseman and Shawn Hennessey pleaded guilty to manslaughter in January 2009 in the deaths of the four officers, who were gunned down by James Roszko on his farm near Mayerthorpe. Roszko then killed himself.

Cheeseman was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison. The jail term was immediately reduced to seven years and two months when the judge took into account his guilty plea and time already served.

Hennessey was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison, but that was immediately cut to 10 years and four months when the judge took his guilty plea and time already served into account.


Shawn Hennessey enters the Edmonton courthouse in January 2009. ((CBC))

In June, lawyers for the two men appeared before the Court of Appeal to argue that both sentences were vengeful and too severe and they should be reduced since the men acted out of fear of Roszko.

But writing for the majority, Appeal Court Justice Jean Côté rejected any such suggestion, ruling instead that the sentences were appropriate.

"Help for Roszko was vital; he probably could not have performed any of the crimes unaided, as the RCMP realized within hours of the constables' killings," he wrote.

The majority said both Hennessey and Cheeseman should have known how much danger the RCMP officers faced that night. They had seven hours to warn the RCMP, but chose not to.

Families relieved by decision

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Peter Martin wrote that Cheeseman's sentence should be reduced because of his lesser role in the killings. Martin said he believes the crime would have unfolded the same way if Cheeseman had not taken part.

However, Martin found that Hennessey's sentence was "fit" and dismissed his appeal.

The decision was greeted with relief by the families of the slain officers.

"We are pleased with the decision.… We believe the judge the first time around got it right," said Colleen Myrol, the mother of Const. Brock Myrol.

"I am relieved," said Grace Johnston, mother of  Const. Leo Johnston. "Leo's dad, when he heard the news, he did the thumbs-up."

Hennessey's father, Barry, said he was devastated by the court's decision, but vowed he won't give up.

"It has been a total nightmare for us and someday it will end," he said. "I'm on a mission. I'm not quitting."

Hennessey's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, said he needs to review the ruling more closely before he decides if there are grounds on which to base an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Cheeseman is eligible to apply for day parole in late December and full parole in June 2011. Hennessey doesn't reach eligibility until 2012. He can apply for day parole in January 2012 and full parole in July of that year.

In the ambush on his property, Roszko shot and killed RCMP constables Myrol, Johnston, Peter Schiemann and Anthony Gordon.

The officers were on Roszko's property to investigate a marijuana grow-op and auto "chop shop" in a Quonset hut.

In an agreed statement of facts, Cheeseman and Hennessey admitted to driving Roszko to his farm in the early hours of March 3, 2005. Hennessey also gave Roszko his grandfather's rifle, although that gun was not the one used to kill the officers.