Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Breaking their silence - on national radio
They had nothing to say in court - but plenty to share with a national live radio audience.Gharib Abdullah
and Cory Amyotte
stunned me and no doubt many listeners Sunday evening when they called into my "Crime and Punishment"
show from the cozy confines of prison.You'll recall these two Winnipeg street gang members were just hit Friday with precedent-setting prison terms for refusing to testify in the high-profile Phil Haiart
murder trial.My technical producer, Amy, told me during a break that I might want to chat with the caller named "Cory" off the air. She had a sense this might not be a routine type of situationAnd she was right.Amyotte quickly identified himself, answered a couple of my questions just to verify this wasn't some prankster, and insisted he had something to say.Not entirely sure where this was going - but never one to refuse a person's right to speak - I didn't hesitate to bring them on.Go figure - Amyotte doesn't think much of the four-year sentence he got from Justice Albert Clearwater.
"I'm appealing," Amyotte quickly told the radio audience.Abdullah took a slightly different approach, expressing concern with his three-and-a-half year term ONLY because it will delay his deportation back to his native Iraq."All I want right now is to get deported. Get me out of this country. I don't like it," said Abdullah.The two angry Mad Cowz then went on to criticize police for getting them to talk in the first place - a move that resulted in their videotaped statements being shown to jurors.
Amyotte and Abdullah, of course, were the intended targets of the shooting that killed Haiart in October 2005.As a result, they were the only eyewitnesses who could put the gun in the hands of the two accused - Jeff Cansanay
and a 17-year-old youth who can't yet be named
.Amyotte and Abdullah refused to testify at both trials with vastly different results.Cansanay was acquitted in April when Justice Morris Kaufman
refused to let jurors see their videotaped statements.The youth was convicted of seven charges last week when Clearwater allowed their statements in. He is now likely going to receive an adult sentence.Amyotte and Abdullah told me they only spoke to police in the first place because they were receiving sweet deals in exchange - no charges would be laid for their admitted involvement in several attacks on Cansanay and the youth preceding Haiart's death."They gave us immunity," said Amyotte.I asked both gang members if they now regretted not testifying, as they are paying a heavy price while still being exposed as "rats" for talking to police in the first place."I don't regret it one bit," said Amyotte.Abdullah and Amyotte, not surprisingly, tried to distance themselves from what they said in the police video."I don't believe these guys are guilty," Amyotte said of the youth and Cansanay.Abdullah went even further. He specifically identified Cansanay and the youth as being the ones to shoot at him and Amyotte in his statement to police. Now he claims that wasn't true."I only said it because I didn't want to get charged," said Abdullah."Are you saying now you gave false information at the time?" I asked."Yes," he replied.Sounds like damage control to me.
It was at that point I ended the conversation. I'd let them both have a brief say, got some interesting comments on the record, but I was fearful of giving these two gangsters too much of a podium.As I told the radio audience, it was a pretty powerful example of what police, prosecutors and the justice system are up against when dealing with reluctant witnesses and gangbangers who believe they are in control.So now that they've had their say, it's your turn. Feel free to post your feedback below on the following questions which have been circulating through my brain.-Should I have even brought these guys on the air in the first place? Was I just giving them 15 minutes of fame? Or was it a good slice of life and unique angle on an important legal story.-Will the contempt of court sentences handed down by Clearwater truly send a strong message to others that silence won't be accepted in court? Is this a sign that the courts are finally looking to wrestle control back from the criminals?-Will the Manitoba Court of Appeal support Clearwater's positions - both on allowing the videotaped into evidence and then hammering the reluctant witnesses with long prison terms? And, if they do, will that encourage other judges to go out on a limb as Clearwater did?
By the way, click HERE
if you'd like to listen to my interview with Amyotte and Abdullah. Just select the date - July 1 - and time 7 p.m., then move the hour counter on your audio player ahead to around the 34 minute mark, where it begins.www.mikeoncrime.com