Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Charges stayed for Angel associates

May be sign of weak case against other gang suspects

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THE Crown has stayed charges against four of nine Hells Angels associates who were charged in connection with a string of violent, intimidation-related crimes, including firebombings, drive-by shootings and plotting to kill.

The five remaining accused and lawyers speaking on their behalf argue the dismissal raises questions about the strength of the Crown's case against their clients.

Lawyers and others involved say a common thread in the case against the four biker associates -- as well as the five still facing trial -- is that the chief evidence against them was to be supplied by former gang member Robert Coquette, now a police informer.

The Crown offered no explanation in court for the staying of the charges during several appearances since March 4. Crown attorney Don Slough, director of special prosecutions, said he could not comment.

Lawyer Jay Prober, who acts for two of the gang associates, raised questions about the quality of Coquette's evidence.

"It's either because the Crown is not satisfied with Robert Coquette's evidence, or they don't want to bring him out too many times to testify," Prober said.

The four who had their cases stayed have ties to the Zig Zag Crew, the street enforcers for the Hells Angels. They were charged last year.

The Crown is proceeding by direct indictment against the five remaining gang associates, meaning no preliminary hearing will be held to test the Crown's evidence. The five remaining accused have been held in pre-trial custody for more than a year.

Their trial date has been set for next Jan. 20 and is expected to last 18 months to two years, given the amount of phone wiretap evidence, which encompasses more than 120,000 phone conversations. The case is bogged down in a dispute over lawyers' fees.

Prober argues that with the charges against the four men being stayed, the Crown's case against the remaining five men will be undermined.

"What's happened with the other cases may be a precursor of what the Crown is faced with in this direct indictment," Prober added.

"They don't want to bring (Coquette) forward," said gang associate Andrew O'Neill, who is still in custody on a separate, outstanding drug charge. "I believe it has to be selective prosecution. What else could it be?"

Slough said the Crown intends to prosecute the five other gang suspects regardless of what happened with the other four cases.

"We have every intention to proceed," he said. "I am not going to comment on someone's theories."

Slough also said the mega-prosecution could be speeded up if lawyers like Prober agreed to immediately represent the five men -- all but one of whom are without lawyers because of the funding standoff.

The four men who have had charges stayed are Zig Zag Crew gang member Sean Demchuk and gang associates O'Neill, Ryan Jones and Darcy Weaver.

On March 4, the Crown stayed kidnapping and assault charges against Jones and Weaver in connection with a Dec. 12, 2001 incident in which a known drug trafficker was driven outside of the city, partially stripped and forced to walk back in sub-zero temperatures. He was picked up by a passerby and taken to hospital for treatment. It's believed the incident was over a drug debt.

On June 10, the Crown also stayed charges of discharging a firearm with intent and unauthorized possession of a firearm in a motor vehicle against Demchuk and O'Neill in connection with a Nov. 30, 2000 drive-by shooting in Osborne Village.

Police say they believe a group of men in two cars fired at several men in a 1993 Honda Civic, slightly wounding three men. The gunfire was believed to be the opening salvo in a war between the Hells Angels network and an unnamed drug cartel over drug turf.

In both cases, the chief evidence against Demchuk, O'Neill, Weaver and Jones were statements given to police by Coquette. The victims in the two cases were not expected to testify.

The five men under direct indictment are Ian Grant, Sean Wolfe, Dale Donovan, Ralph Moar and Harold Amos. Wolfe is applying for bail June 24.

In total, they are charged with 36 offences in connection with a year-long crime spree police allege was intended to win control of the city's drug trade and intimidate a female city police officer.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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