James Roszko gunned down four RCMP officers at his farm on March 3, 2005. ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

An Albertan convicted for helping James Roszko in the notorious 2005 slaying of four RCMP officers says he felt pressure to plead guilty in the case and maintains he never knew of the killer's intentions for a deadly ambush.

In his first interview, Shawn Hennessey told CBC's The Fifth Estate his version of events, which includes key contradictions of statements given in court, and said he agreed to help Roszko out of fear for his family's safety.

Roszko shot and killed four RCMP constables — Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon and Leo Johnston — on March 3, 2005, at his hilltop farm in Rochefort Bridge, Alta., before turning a gun on himself.

But the chain of events leading to the RCMP's single worst loss of life in more than a century began a day earlier when bailiffs came to repossess Roszko's pickup truck and he fled.

Hennessey, 29, and his brother-in-law Dennis Cheeseman, 25, were sentenced last week to 15 and 12 years behind bars, respectively, for helping arm Roszko and driving him back to the farm where he ambushed the officers.

Originally charged with first-degree murder in the case, the two Barrhead, Alta., residents pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter on Jan. 19, months before their trials were scheduled to begin.

Pressure to plead guilty

When CBC's Linden MacIntyre spoke with Hennessey the night before he entered his plea in an Edmonton court, he asked what triggered the change, despite Hennessey's insistence he'd had no knowledge of Roszko's intentions.


Shawn Hennessey is shown entering the Edmonton courthouse on Jan. 19 to plead guilty to four counts of manslaughter. ((CBC))

"I'm trying to move on with my life, you know, with the least impact as possible," said Hennessey in the Jan. 18 interview.

Hennessey's family said a combination of depleting financial resources, the prospect of a lengthy trial and fear of murder convictions that could net multiple life sentences led to the plea.

"[My family means] the world to me," he said. "I can't risk looking at a life sentence. I don't know. I have no faith in the justice system."

Hennessey admitted that in retrospect he should have foreseen the deadly attacks and wishes he had acted differently that night.

"My regret is not … wrestling him to the ground and taking the gun from him and doing what I had to do — shooting him."

Refused initial requests for help

In the account Hennessey gave to CBC, Roszko appeared on his doorstep the evening before the slayings, demanding help hiding his white 2005 Ford F-350 pickup from authorities.


Dennis Cheeseman leaves the courthouse in June 2008 after learning that he would face a trial on charges of first-degree murder. ((Ian Jackson/Canadian Press))

Hennessey had met Roszko, a convicted sexual predator known to area residents for his violent tendencies, as a customer at the Kal Tire car repair shop where Hennessey worked. He admits that he also sold marijuana for Roszko.

Hennessey said he'd declined several requests from Roszko to leave the truck in his yard, where it would be out of sight from the highway.

Several hours later, a "quite agitated" Roszko returned to Hennessey's house with a pistol in hand and two new demands, he said.

"I seen the vehicle pull in the driveway and I went to the door and by the time I got to the door, Jim was there with a 9-mm Beretta in his hand," said Hennessey.

That contradicts one of the elements in an agreed statement of facts presented to Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Eric Macklin during sentencing.

In the statement, negotiated between the Crown and defence, it says the gun was in Roszko's waistband.

Roszko appeared 'threatening'

Hennessey told CBC he feared for the safety of his wife, Christine, and their two young daughters and so agreed when Roszko demanded he give him a ride home.

"I just wanted to do what he told me to do because he was … threatening," said Hennessey.

"And I thought, had I not done what he told me to do, you know, that he would come back at any point in time. And chances are he would come back when I was away at work, with my wife and children at home."

He said he also acquiesced when Roszko ordered that he hand over his grandfather's rifle, a weapon he'd previously borrowed.

That .300 Winchester Magnum was one of three later found scattered around Roszko's body in his Quonset hut the next day. It was on his right side, but had not been fired. The Beretta pistol was found tucked into his waistband and an assault rifle lay between his legs.

No knowledge of police raid

But never did Roszko indicate that he intended to use the weapon to attack police officers, nor was there any mention of a police raid underway at Roszko's farm at that hour, Hennessey said. 

As far as Hennessey knew, he said, Roszko wanted the rifle to shoot up two fuel tanks behind his Quonset hut to spark a fire in the steel structure to eliminate a marijuana grow-operation hidden inside.

Hennessey also said he had no idea Roszko's property had become a crime scene in the early evening of March 2, with officers from nearby Mayerthorpe and other detachments clearing out hundreds of marijuana plants and a collection of stolen vehicles and parts.

While Hennessey and Roszko talked outside the Barrhead home, Hennessey said, his brother-in-law Dennis Cheeseman drove up.

"My brother-in-law, right away, he knows something's wrong. I'm white as a ghost and terrified," said Hennessey. Hennessey said he then asked whether Cheeseman would come along for the ride.

'No talk of Mounties'

Under the dark of night, the trio drove past Roszko's farm and dropped him off in a field beside his mother's house.

"There was no talk of Mounties ever from Jimmy Roszko to myself. Never. He wanted to go home … to burn his dope," said Hennessey.

But the agreed statement of fact says Hennessey and Cheeseman saw the lights from police cruisers at the hilltop farm when they drove up.

Hennessey told CBC, however, that he didn't see any cruisers.

"I could see a single set of headlights on his property and I could see that lights were on inside his mobile home that was on the property. But there was … no red and blue flashing lights. It seemed fairly calm," said Hennessey.

Hours later, after watching officers from afar, Roszko would sneak into the farm's Quonset hut and shoot dead four officers.

'Terrified of the involvement I had'

After learning of the RCMP slayings the next day, Hennessey said, he decided to lie low. "I was absolutely terrified of the involvement I had and … I didn't know what was going to come out of it."

The RCMP questioned him several times and Hennessey admits he lied to them.

Undercover officers infiltrated the community  — a supposed welder befriended Hennessey and a woman pretended to have car trouble outside Cheeseman's workplace, Sepallo Foods. The two later began dating.

It was through Cheeseman that police finally secured a breakthrough.

Hennessey and his wife, Christine, said Cheeseman appeared smitten with the woman and began hanging out with her shady friends, becoming ensnared in what is dubbed a "Mr. Big" sting.

Cheeseman told them he knew Roszko intended to kill the Mounties that night, something Hennessey continues to deny.

On July 7, 2007, police arrested Cheeseman, and a day later Hennessey was taken into custody.

'Sick to my stomach'

Hennessey said he was shocked when he learned that Cheeseman had confessed to knowledge of Roszko's intent.

"I was lost for words. I was sick to my stomach. Why would he, why would he admit guilt where there, there is no guilt due?"

Christine, Hennessey's wife and Cheeseman's sister, said Cheeseman thought he was dealing with mobsters.

"He had told me that he, he honestly can't even explain, just that he was scared and he just said what they wanted to hear," said Christine. "They don't realize that he said it out of fear."