News of the latest arrests in the slayings of four RCMP officers in 2005 has perplexed residents of Barrhead, Alta., who knew Shawn Hennesey and Dennis Cheeseman as decent small-towners who didn't fit the profile of cop killers.
The two brothers-in-law accused of helping gunman James Roszko ambush the Mounties in cold blood now face four first-degree murder charges each, even though police admitted neither suspect pulled the trigger nor attended the scene of the crime in March 2005.
Shortly after killing the four constables — Tony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Peter Schiemann and Brock Myrol — Roszko turned his gun on himself.
On Sunday, police announced the charges against Hennesey, 28, and Cheeseman, 23, for allegedly helping Roszko plan and execute a plot to shoot down the officers.
But Dan Peters, who saw Hennesey last weekend not long before the arrest, said his longtime friend's rowdy youth and penchant for picking the odd bar fight simply did not add up to homicide. Hennesey had even settled down and become a father, Peters said.
"Shawn's a good guy, got in a bit of trouble when he was younger, pretty straight now," Peters said. "Got kids and a family. Don't think he's gotten into any trouble for a long time."
Peters maintained his friend's innocence, saying instead that police are looking for a scapegoat to explain troubling questions about how Roszko could have possibly ambushed the four constables without any outside help that day more than two years ago.
"I think it's a pile of bullshit myself," Peters said."They need someone to blame since the guy shot himself. They're looking for a scapegoat, in my opinion."
Arrests called a 'secondary tragedy'
Cheeseman — who also lived in Barrhead,not far from where the slayingson Roszko's farm near Mayerthorpe — also had a decent reputation, according to Cheeseman's employer.
Brad McNish was Cheeseman's boss at Sepallo, a food processing company in Barrhead.
He likened the arrests to a second chapter in the story of Mayerthorpe, this one involving two "kids" who were swept up in the aftermath of the police tragedy.
"That event was truly a tragedy, and now what you're seeing happening is the secondary tragedy and the people who may have been caught up with that," he said.
Cheeseman a 'good kid,' boss says
McNish described Cheeseman as "a good kid like most young kids growing up in a small town trying to find his way."
Cheeseman was driven, positive and had an attention to detail that helped him get promoted to become a team leader at the plant, McNish said, adding he had teased the younger worker often because he often dyed his hair different colours.
Although some people have questioned how Hennesy and Cheeseman could be charged with first-degree murder if they weren't even at the scene, University of Alberta law Prof. Sanjeev Anand explained that being present at the scene of a crime is not necessarily a prerequisite for conviction.
"Aiding and abetting" can mean anything from providing materials to encouraging someone to follow through with their plans, he said. Anand also said murder charges are always raised to first degree when the victim is a police officer.