British Columbia

6 men convicted in 2016 East Vancouver double-homicide

A B.C. Supreme Court judge convicted six men Thursday in connection with a pair of execution style-slayings in 2016 that preceded the brutal extortion of a kidnap victim.

Judge convicted accused men of lesser count of manslaughter because it was unknown who fired gun

Harinam Cox, left, and Gopal Figueredo, right, were among six men found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the execution-style slayings of two people in Vancouver in 2016. (Facebook)

A Vancouver judge convicted six men Thursday in connection with a pair of execution style-slayings that preceded the brutal extortion of a kidnap victim in September 2016.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Arne Silverman read the executive summary of his 104-page judgment as a tense mixture of family and friends of both the victims and the accused listened.

The judge found Harinam Cox, Shamil Ali, Gopal Figueredo, Erlan Acosta, Ellwood Bradbury and Matthew Stewart guilty of kidnapping, unlawful confinement, extortion, aggravated assault and manslaughter in the deaths of Samantha Le and Xuan Van Vy Ba-Cao in September 2016.

The men were all initially charged with the more serious offence of manslaughter with a firearm. But Silverman explained that he found them guilty of the lesser offence because the exact identity of the shooter could not be determined.

"While there can be no doubt that a firearm was used, it is unknown who used it, and consequently, it is not possible to determine which of these six knew a firearm was present," he said.

"Therefore, that essential ingredient has not been proven and the conviction for manslaughter will be for the lesser included offence."

'He did not think that anyone had been shot'

Cox, Ali, Figueredo, Acosta, Bradbury and Stewart will be sentenced in the coming months. Sheriffs escorted the six men into the courtroom, where they sat in a row of prisoners boxes in ironed open-necked shirts.

Several of the men waved to members of the gallery. Their mood was buoyant as they sat down, but they left with shoulders slumped.

From left to right: Ellwood Bradbury, Matthew Stewart and Erlan Acosta were among the six men found guilty of manslaughter in the 2016 slayings of Samantha Le and Xuan Van Vy Ba-Cao. (Vancouver Police Department)

Silverman explained the legal complication of a trial involving numerous publication bans, tricky legal arguments and a key witness whose history as a drug dealer presented problems of its own.

"Because of his unsavoury past, I am not willing to believe his evidence in the absence of other independent evidence which confirms relevant material aspects of his evidence," Silverman said.

The kidnap victim told a compelling, horrific story.

He said he had a meeting at his East Vancouver home with Cox and Figueredo shortly before Le and Ba-Cao — both of whom lived with him — returned to his house. The pair were standing on a stairway to the living room, and he realized that three or four masked men had also appeared.

"[The victim] was punched in the face, his glasses were broken, his arms tied behind his back and he was thrown down the stairs from where he heard four pops that he thought were gunshots," Silverman said.

"However, he did not think that anyone had been shot because there was no reason for that to be done."

A cycle of beatings

Le and Ba-Cao had been shot twice in the head at close range.

The kidnap victim was then taken to a house in Surrey where he was held for the next 45 hours, with the exception of moments when he was driven around by his captors in the hopes of raising money for ransom.

He was subjected to a cycle of beatings, kicked, punched and tortured with a blow torch as the accused tried to extract money from him. The men started by demanding $1 million, but eventually reduced the amount to $500,000.

The victim was ultimately rescued by the Vancouver Police Department's emergency response team. Three of the men were in a car with him when police intervened.

A Vancouver hazmat team prepares to enter the East Vancouver house where Samantha Le and Xuan Van Vy Ba-Cao were killed in September 2016. (Belle Puri/CBC)

At the time of the kidnapping and the shooting in East Vancouver, all the perpetrators were wearing balaclavas. The victim was only able to place Figueredo at the scene because he recognized his voice.

But while he was held hostage in Surrey, the victim was able to figure out the other people involved.

"He came to see their faces and hear their voices," Silverman said. "He subsequently identified them for the police. They are the six accused."

'Does it really bring satisfaction? No'

The men were all represented by different sets of lawyers. One of the men — Cox — argued that he had been forced to participate under duress "on pain of suffering severe consequences if he failed to do so."

But the judge rejected his argument.

Four of the men claimed that while they might have been part of the assaults and extortion in Surrey, the Crown was unable to prove they were in East Vancouver for the shootings.

But Silverman found that all the men had a common purpose: to kidnap the victim for ransom.

"Neither their presence [in Vancouver] nor an intention to kill is necessary as a basis for conviction in circumstances such as these," Silverman said.

"All that is necessary is that in carrying out their common purpose [kidnapping], they ought to have known that the consequences of their actions would probably result in someone being seriously hurt."

Family members of the two victims embraced in the hallway after Silverman's verdict. One man declined to be identified but said the convictions were bittersweet.

"Does it really bring satisfaction?" he asked. "No, because I am still at the loss for a family member."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.