A Hells Angel-turned-informant pleads for 2nd chance
At hearing for conditional release, Stéphane 'Godasse' Gagné detailed the path that landed him behind bars
On a warm June day in 1997, Diane Lavigne, a widow with two adult daughters, got into her van and headed home.
She left Montreal's Bordeaux jail, where she had worked for more than 10 years. As she drove north on the Laurentian Highway, a motorcycle pulled up beside her.
She was gunned down in what has been described as a "hail fire" of bullets, becoming one of more than 100 victims of Quebec's infamous biker wars.
Hells Angel Stéphane "Godasse" Gagné, 47, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Lavigne's death and was sentenced to life in prison, where he has now served more than 19 years.
Gagné, who is eligible for parole in 2023, filed a motion last year to have his request for parole heard earlier. The motion was granted.
At his Parole Board of Canada hearing for conditional release, held earlier this week, Gagné detailed the path that landed him behind bars and brought him to the point of seeking a second chance.
'If you didn't kill, you don't move up'
As a child, Gagné was bullied, he said. In high school, he started dealing drugs.
"No one bothered me. I learned that money brought respect," he said.
He quit school, started stealing cars and kept on dealing. Soon, he affiliated himself with the Hells Angels in order to make sure he wouldn't get himself into trouble, dealing in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, which would become a hot bed of biker activity.
He was in his late 20s. He was raking in money, earning between $1,000 and $5,000 a week. He was constantly surrounded by pretty women.
But that wasn't enough.
"It was known in wartime that if you didn't kill, you don't move up," Gagné said.
In the summer of 1997, the biker war was in full swing. A fellow biker told him they had a job to do — a prison guard to kill.
"I had two choices. Go to the police, or say no and be killed," he said.
On June 26, he got on a motorcycle and followed a vehicle coming from the prison onto the Laurentian Highway. When he caught up to the van, he shot the driver, Lavigne, over and over.
Why kill a prison guard instead of a member of the rival Rock Machine gang?
"Prison guards can't kill you," he said.
The next day, with news of the murder plastered all over television screens, Gagné's wife pronounced that whoever killed Lavigne must have been a repugnant person.
Gagné, ashamed, slunk out.
Becoming an informant
He went to meet someone who gave him the praise he was looking for — Maurice "Mom" Boucher, who at that point was the head of the Montreal Hells Angels.
Three months later, Gagné was involved in the murder and attempted murder of two other prison guards.
He was arrested in December and agreed to testify against Boucher at his trial. In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors agreed to charge Gagné with a single count of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the first crime and to 10 years for the second, to be served concurrently.
During Boucher's trial, Gagné told the court he pulled the trigger on the orders of the motorcycle gang leader.
It took two trials, but in 2002, after two months of testimony and 11 days of deliberations, Boucher was convicted of first-degree murder.
In prison, Gagné was the target of threats. His family members were threatened, too. He started spending most of his time – 23 hours a day – in solitary confinement.
He was involved in two incidents behind bars, one in 2010 and one in 2016. The nature of those incidents hasn't been disclosed, however, it did lead a parole officer to remark at his hearing that Gagné still has work to do.
Deserving of 2nd chance?
Lavigne left behind two daughters. The younger of the two isn't keen on the idea of Gagné being freed.
The eldest, Isabelle Daoust, who was just 22 when her mother died, said 20 years ago, she would have felt the same way.
"I would have said, 'Lock him up, throw away the key, and forget about him.'"
But with hindsight and maturity, she said, she now has no problem with Gagné's request.
"Without forgiving him completely, I'm not against him asking for his liberty. I could even say the opposite: I can understand that he wants to get out," she said.
Whether Gagné is out on the street or locked up, nothing will bring her mother back, Daoust said.
Her mother was a staunch believer in rehabilitation, and so is she: Gagné was young, she said. He pulled the trigger, but the orders came from higher up. As well, he helped put Boucher away.
After 20 years, Daoust said, Gagné deserves a second chance.
'Godasse is no more'
Gagné is still waiting to find out if he'll be allowed to take the first step toward that second chance.
The same parole officer who said Gagné still has work to do is recommending he be allowed out but "always, always, always" with a police escort.
During the hearing, the parole board members didn't seem convinced by Gagné's testimony. They challenged his motives, telling him he sounded self-centred.
Gagné said he has taken stock of the hurt he's caused, and he knows he can't return to the Hells Angels because gang members will kill him.
"'Godasse' Gagné is no more. I'm back to being the person my parents raised," he said.
The parole board has yet to make public its decision.
with files from Radio-Canada's Geneviève Garon, Isabelle Richer and Gravel le matin