Plenty of hometown support for accused in Mountie killings

Despite the news that two men charged as accomplices in the 2005 slayings of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta., are expected to plead guilty to manslaughter, many in their hometown still believe they are innocent.

Despite the news that two men charged as accomplices in the 2005 slayings of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta., are expected to plead guilty to manslaughter, many in their hometown still believe they are innocent.

James Munro and other residents of Barrhead — a rural community about 65 kilometres from the scene of the killings and the town where the accused, Dennis Cheeseman and Shawn Hennessey, grew up —are cautiously optimistic about the news.

Munro, who has lived in the community of 4,200 all his life and knows both men, said he understands why they will likely plead guilty to manslaughter, rather than face a possible murder conviction.

"So they don't have to spend the rest of their lives in prison, so maybe they can get parole," Munro said. "Maybe they knew they were involved a little bit.… If I knew I had involvement, I might try to take the easier way out."

The two men are accused of helping James Roszko kill four RCMP officers at his farm in March 2005, even though police have said neither man pulled the trigger or was even there when the officers were shot to death.

Killer committed suicide

It's believed Roszko, knowing officers were at his farm, got a ride there from Hennessey and Cheeseman. He subsequently gunned down the officers and then killed himself.

CBC News learned last week that Cheeseman, 23, and Hennessey, 28, who had been charged with first-degree murder, will plead guilty to manslaughter instead.

RCMP constables Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston all died that day, the single worst loss of life in RCMP history.

A seven-month undercover sting operation led to the men's arrest 18 months ago. Hennessey and Cheeseman were scheduled go on trial for murder in April.

In Barrhead, there's still plenty of support for the accused. Many believe they are innocent, set up by the RCMP sting.

That's a sentiment echoed by Dustin Hamilton, a friend of both men.

"They're just using a scapegoat for this tragedy.... Four young Mounties getting shot down. sure, it's a horrible thing to happen, but the guy that's 100 per cent guilty on it — he's already dead, so they're trying to get someone else to put the blame on," Hamilton said.

Having murder charges hanging over their heads since the summer of 2007 was been very difficult, he said.

"It's taken quite a huge toll on them, on their whole family. Their whole family's just torn apart about this. Like, I'm quite upset for the whole family," he said.

'Completely dumb'

Joe Smithson also knows both men.

"I don't think Shawn and Dennis should be accused of anything, that's what I think. It's completely dumb," Smithson said.

Joan Kallal, a resident of Barrhead, doesn't see how both men could face criminal charges when they weren't there when the Mounties were killed.

"Nobody would have been able to get in the mind of the killer. No one would have known, and so maybe they gave him a lift somewhere or something like that. I think that's a far cry from proving they were accomplices," she said.

"I would like to know what kind of proof they have. I guess everyone wants to know that."

Now, many in the town say the public will never know the strength of the prosecution's case because it is not going to trial.

The men are expected to make their pleas Monday. Their lawyers are expected to ask the judge for a five-year sentence.