Calgary

Men charged in Dominican Republic to Calgary drug ring walk away from import, murder charges

Four Calgary men have now walked away from all of their drug importation and murder charges connected to an international cocaine trafficking ring after the latest ruling which found an unreasonable delay in getting the case to trial.

Most recent decision sees Gursharanjit Parmar, Joshua Okabe and Ricco King's drug importation charges dropped

One of the locations police searched in 2016 in connection with Operation Hydra which saw four men charged with various offences including cocaine importation and murder. Over the last year-and-a-half, all of the charges have been thrown out. (Marc Matulis/CBC)

Four Calgary men have now walked away from all of their drug importation and murder charges connected to an international cocaine trafficking ring after the latest ruling which found an unreasonable delay in getting the case to trial.

Gursharanjit Parmar, Ricco King and Joshua Okabe, who who were accused of conspiring to import massive amounts of cocaine from Dominican Republic, saw their charges stayed Friday.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Gillian Marriott agreed with defence lawyers Noel O'Brien, Karen Molle and Kim Ross who argued it took too long for the case to make it to trial after charges were laid in 2016.

Marriott found there was an unreasonable delay, a large chunk of which was attributed to another judge who took an extraordinary nine months to make a decision following a preliminary inquiry. 

Parmar and Okabe had already seen their murder charges thrown out, while Ricco King's father's drug importation charge was also dropped in 2017.

In July 2016, Calgary police announced the results of a nearly two-year joint investigation with three American policing agencies. 

Parmar and Okabe were charged in a 2014 murder-for-hire plot which resulted in the death of suspected meth-dealing kingpin Jason Antonio. They also faced a second first-degree murder charge for the 2015 killing of accused drug trafficker Taylor Zanoni, who the two suspected of being being a rat. 

At the same Okabe and Parmar also faced cocaine importation charges along with Ricco King and his father William King who were suspected in a massive drug operation which saw huge quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine flown from Dominican Republic to Canada 

Okabe and Parmar's two first-degree murder charges were stayed in November 2017 after organized crime prosecutor Brian Holtby determined "there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction."

William King's drug charges were stayed the same year. 

The murder victims

Jason Antonio, 39, died in a northeast Calgary shooting in October 2014. He had been charged the year before when police seized more than $1 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine and crack cocaine.

Seven months later in May 2015, Taylor Zanoni, 23, was shot to death in the city's southeast.

He'd been charged a few months earlier with drug trafficking after police seized $250,000 worth of cocaine and meth.

Zanoni was shot on his way to his probation officer's office. 

Police said at the time the killings were connected and that Parmar and Okabe were not accused of physically killing Zanoni and Antonio, rather investigators believe the pair ordered the murders.

Judge's delay 'cannot be justified'

A large chunk of the delay is attributed to provincial court Judge Marlene Graham who took an extraordinary nine months to make a decision on whether there was enough evidence for Okabe and King to stand trial on their drug charges following a preliminary inquiry. 

Usually, a decision following a prelim takes a judge anywhere from minutes to days.

Graham's delay was so exceptional Marriott suggested prosecutors could have applied to a higher court asking for an order that the provincial court judge render a decision immediately.

Or, suggested Marriott, the Crown could have written a letter to the chief judge expressing concern about the delay.

"The nine-month delay cannot be justified by complexity," wrote Marriott. "The only question that the Provincial Court Judge needed to answer was whether or not there was any evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly instructed could return a verdict of guilty for Mr. Okabe … and for Mr. King."

Marriott disagreed with two other periods of time the Crown had argued should be calculated as defence delay; the five and seven month periods were in setting preliminary inquiry and trial dates.

Federal prosecutor Frank Polak said in a written statement that the Crown's office is "in the process of analyzing Justice Marriott's decision and will decide on the issue of appeal in due course."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach her at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCMeg.

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