Lawyers for two men convicted in the deaths of four Alberta RCMP officers in 2005 asked the province's Court of Appeal Wednesday to reduce the length of their sentences.


Shawn Hennessey is shown entering the Edmonton courthouse in January 2009. ((CBC))

Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman — both wearing blue prison coveralls — appeared in public for the first time in a year and half before a packed courtroom in Edmonton.

The two men 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, Alta.  Roszko killed himself after shooting the four officers.

Cheeseman's lawyer Peter Royal told the three Appeal Court judges the 12-year sentence originally handed to his client was "a savage, vengeful sentence … this sentence is unfit. Demonstrably unfit."

Instead, Cheeseman's original sentence should have been in the range of six to eight years, Royal argued.

At the original sentencing in January 2009, Cheeseman's jail term was immediately reduced to seven years and eight months when the judge took into account his guilty plea and time already served.

Similarly, 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.

Hennessey made bad choices, lawyer argues

In the agreed statement of facts from January 2009, Cheeseman and Hennessey admitted they gave Roszko a rifle and drove him to his farm in the early hours of March 3, 2005, where RCMP were investigating a marijuana grow-op and auto parts "chop shop" in a Quonset hut on Roszko's property.

Both men were terrified and intimidated by Roszko. Hennessey talked Cheeseman out of calling the police because he was afraid Roszko would retaliate.

'Duress is not a defence to murder.' —Appeal Court Judge Peter Martin

Hennessey's lawyer, Hersh Wolch, told the court his client is a decent, good man, who got caught up in a bad situation.

"On one night, he made bad choices under duress and intimidation and it doesn't call for 15 years," Wolch said. "That sentence is influenced by the tragedy — overwhelmingly."


Dennis Cheeseman is shown here after an earlier court appearance. ((CBC))

But Wolch's arguments did not go over well with the court.

"This is an attack on the police," Judge Peter Martin said. " If we freeze frame there, Hennessey has given Roszko a high-powered rifle to ambush the police. Let's talk about moral culpability. How far does cowardice take us? Duress is not a defence to murder."

Crown prosecutor Susan Hughson said the original sentences were right.

The three justices on the appeal court reserved their decision Wednesday.

In the ambush on his property, Roszko shot and killed RCMP constables Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston — the single worst loss of life in RCMP history.

Roszko then killed himself.