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Two men plead guilty to manslaughter in deaths of four Alberta Mounties

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/1/2009 (3469 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

EDMONTON - Almost four years ago, Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman gave ranting, cop-hating James Roszko a weapon and a ride to the spot where Mounties were tearing apart Roszko's pot farm.

On Monday they stood to face Justice Terry Macklin in the dead hush of Court of Queen's Bench and paid the price.

"James Roszko would never have been able to commit these murders without the help of these accused," Crown prosecutor David Labrenz told Macklin.

"The two accused might as well have been inside the Quonset pulling the trigger themselves."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/1/2009 (3469 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

EDMONTON - Almost four years ago, Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman gave ranting, cop-hating James Roszko a weapon and a ride to the spot where Mounties were tearing apart Roszko's pot farm.

On Monday they stood to face Justice Terry Macklin in the dead hush of Court of Queen's Bench and paid the price.

"James Roszko would never have been able to commit these murders without the help of these accused," Crown prosecutor David Labrenz told Macklin.

"The two accused might as well have been inside the Quonset pulling the trigger themselves."

The brothers-in-law pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter in the deaths of the four Mounties Roszko ambushed, shot and killed inside his Quonset hut outside Mayerthorpe on March 3, 2005.

They had been charged with first-degree murder but agreed to plead down to the lesser charges.

Hennessey, 29, dressed in a grey suit and striped white dress shirt, hair cut to a razor-thin black stubble, quietly replied "Yes," to the four counts of manslaughter relating to the deaths of constables Anthony Gordon, Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann and Leo Johnston.

Cheeseman, 25, then stood in a white dress shirt and black slacks, hands behind his back, dark hair parted in the middle and highlighted by blond streaks. "Yes," he replied to each of the four counts.

The men, who had been free on bail, were then ordered held in custody.

Labrenz asked Macklin to impose a 10 to 15-year prison sentence, telling him, "These actions are reprehensible, cowardly and extremely selfish.

"The two chose the perceived and removed threat of future retribution (from Roszko) over the immediate threat to the RCMP," he said.

Defence lawyers will make their submissions on an appropriate sentence Tuesday.

The courtroom was packed with more than 100 people, some standing in jammed doorways. Family members of the victims looked on, dabbed teary eyes or quietly cried as Labrenz recounted the events surrounding the ambush in an agreed statement of facts.

The statement offered the first official glimpse into what happened inside the hut. A fatality inquiry is still pending and Mounties have yet to release details from their investigation.

All four officers died of multiple gunshot wounds in the 10 a.m. attack, Labrenz told court.

Johnston, he said, actually managed to get off a shot at Roszko, but the bullet glanced off the butt of Roszko's handgun, which was tucked in his waistband.

Then the officer's gun jammed.

"The gun failed to properly eject the shell casing, therefore preventing Johnston from firing again," said Labrenz.

When police finally entered the Quonset, they found a charnel house - bodies scattered among 19 shell casings.

Schiemann - the 25-year-old man born in Petrolia, Ont., who fell in love with police work while going on ride-alongs as a student - was found in the centre of the hut close to Johnston. He died of multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, left thigh and left wrist.

Twenty-eight year old Gordon, who was born in Edmonton and had wanted to be a Mountie since Grade 1, was found dead near the hut entrance, gunshots piercing his torso and abdomen.

Johnston, the ace marksman from Owl River, Alta., was hit four times, injuring his neck, chest, face, upper extremities, lower extremities, pelvis and abdomen. He was 33.

Myrol, 29, a rookie with three weeks' experience, never had a chance.

He was shot in the head while trying to flee the Quonset and there was massive damage to his skull and brain. His body was found near a rear door that was padlocked from the outside. His head was so shattered, doctors used fingerprints to identify him.

Roszko was lying on his back. Police turned him over to handcuff him, then realized there was no point. He had shot himself through the left side of the chest, taking his own life.

It was a violent end to the life of a 46-year-old who had been feared and loathed locally for his intimidation and bullying tactics and for a rap sheet with 16 criminal convictions, including sex assault on a young male.

In the afternoon, family members of the dead officers stood in the witness box, crying as they read aloud victim impact statements, occasionally lifting their eyes to face Hennessey and Cheeseman.

Keith Myrol said every time he hears a siren, sees the Canadian flag or hears the national anthem, his mind is yanked back to the murders.

"A good night's sleep is a thing of the past," he said. "The nights are long when your mind won't quit."

Grace Johnston, who has since faced the pain of burying her son twice after Johnston's widow won a court case last year to have his body disinterred and moved to the RCMP national cemetery in Regina, told court, "My so-called closure will come when I die."

The events that led to the shooting had begun 19 hours earlier, at 3 p.m. on March 2.

Labrenz recounted to court that police had arrived at Roszko's farm to aid bailiffs in the repossession of Roszko's white Ford pickup truck. Just minutes earlier, Roszko had fled in that same truck.

When they entered, police found the first of what turned out to be 280 marijuana plants along with stolen car parts. They proceeded to get a search warrant and take the operation apart.

Roszko, meanwhile, made frantic calls throughout the night to his mother, who lived nearby and could see the police operation. Police were in the hut, in his trailer home. They had brought in a truck and were hauling away evidence.

James Roszko was going out of business.

He called Hennessey, who lived in Barrhead - a nearby town linked to Mayerthorpe by the asphalt ribbon of Highway 18 in the farming and oil country just northwest of Edmonton.

Hennessey - father of two young girls, hunter, fisherman, and award-winning boxer - was married to Cheeseman's older sister, Christine. All five lived under the same roof.

Cheeseman, a shy, retiring high-school dropout who loved model making and comics, had come to regard Hennessey as a father figure after his real father was killed by a drunk driver when Cheeseman was but a toddler.

He did odd jobs for Roszko, planting trees, digging holes.

That night, Roszko came to their home. He was livid, vowing to return and burn down his Quonset. Christine Hennessey kept herself and the kids in the other room, away from him.

Roszko wanted the .300 Winchester Magnum rifle owned by Hennessey's grandfather. Hennessey wiped it down and gave it to him, along with ammunition.

Cheeseman then took it upon himself to dig up a white pillow case to wrap it in along with a pair of gloves.

"Hennessey and Cheeseman knew armed confrontation with police was a real possibility," Labrenz told court.

Roszko needed a ride. First to help him hide the white truck at his aunt's place, then back to his farm. Cheeseman and Hennessey agreed.

At the aunt's place, while Roszko was busy hiding the truck, the pair considered leaving him behind, but decided against it.

Hennessey then drove them to a field across from the Quonset. Cheeseman sat in the back with the rifle. Roszko sat up front. He was ranting, vowing to "get even" with police. Cheeseman dismissed the ravings as so much "devil talk."

In the distance they could see the police car dome lights winking in the pre-dawn darkness beside the semi-circular grey frame of the Quonset. Roszko put socks on over his boots, hiked up his rifle and crunched off into the snowbound field.

The two men talked again. Maybe we should call police, said Cheeseman. No, said Hennessey. What happens if Roszko comes after us?

They drove home.

By 10 a.m. auto theft investigators Steve Vigor and Garry Hoogestraat had arrived and it was time to enter the Quonset again. The four Mounties went in first. Second later, Vigor and Hoogestraat heard "a quick succession of bangs and screams."

Roszko then burst out of the doorway, brandishing a semi-automatic .308 Heckler and Koch assault rifle.

He was shocked to see more police. He fired at Vigor, missing him by inches. Vigor fired back and hit Roszko once in the hand and once in the thigh. Roszko retreated back into the hut and a four-hour standoff began. Police could not reach the four officers on radio.

They brought in a camera-toting search robot and an emergency response team and by 2 p.m. had learned the terrible truth.

Hennessey, meanwhile, was driving home from a business meeting in Edmonton when he heard the news on the radio: four Mounties down.

His thoughts went to the Winchester. He talked to his mother and grandfather, John Hennessey. He knew police could trace the gun and that soon they would be coming after him. At John's suggestion, they concocted a plan to say the gun had been stolen earlier from John's welding truck.

Cheeseman had already gone home early from his job at Sepallo Food Ingredients. He claimed a family emergency, but in reality there was no emergency. He'd also heard the news.

The days that followed brought a national outpouring of grief. Ten thousand peace officers from across North America came to pay their respects in a memorial service.

Two years later, in July 2007, police had enough evidence to charge Hennessey and Cheeseman.

Their case divided residents of Barrhead: Some demanding justice for helping a cop-killer, others saying the men were scapegoats of a vindictive RCMP whose failed internal safety procedures had put the four officers needlessly in harm's way.

In 2007, an RCMP workplace safety report recommended officers receive better body armour, night vision goggles and improved radio communications.

Hennessey and Cheeseman were charged under Section 21 of the Criminal Code that states that someone who helps a person commit a crime can be found guilty of the same crime.

The men spent 10 months in remand before getting bail, Hennessey on a $500,000 surety.

They showed little emotion during Monday's hearing. Hennessey looked straight ahead, hands clasped in front of him, eyes staring off into the middle distance, looking at everyone and no one.

Cheeseman dabbed at his eyes as the victim impact statements were read, but otherwise sat stoically, white-knuckle gripping the sides of the wooden bench in the prisoner's dock. He softly shook his head when Labrenz argued for their immediate incarceration.

Macklin, however, agreed with the Crown - and 1,418 days after four Mounties lost their lives, four security guards opened the side door into the prison holding area and led the two men away.

-

A ride and a rifle: how two men helped cop hater kill four Alberta Mounties

By Bob Weber

EDMONTON - Brad McNish had watched Dennis Cheeseman deteriorate for months.

McNish was Cheeseman's boss at Sepallo Food Ingredients in Barrhead, Alta. He was also his confidant - an understanding compassionate, older man who had often been a willing listener to his young employee's troubles.

Cheeseman had plenty to say.

And McNish, who had been a Calgary police officer for 17 years, took careful notes of their discussions.

"He has no relationship with his mother and really has no other close friends," McNish testified at Cheeseman's preliminary hearing in Edmonton last May.

In December 2005, Cheeseman asked McNish for a private meeting. He had just watched a documentary about the murder of four Mounties on an area farm nine months earlier. James Roszko, a local thug and criminal known for hating cops, had killed the officers in his Quonset hut full of marijuana and stolen property - everyone knew that.

But the police believed Roszko had help. There was no way he could have walked the 20 kilometres from where his truck was found to his farm where the officers were gunned down.

Cheeseman admitted to McNish that he had provided that help. He told McNish he had taken Roszko to the edge of the property after Roszko had bullied him into making the drive.

"You were basically the last one to see Roszko alive," McNish said he told Cheeseman.

"I know," the young man replied.

McNish asked him why he agreed to get involved.

Replied Cheeseman: "He intimidated me. He was behind me in the truck. He know everything about me - where I was, what I did."

McNish asked Cheeseman what he and Roszko, a known troublemaker who had spent some time in jail, talked about on the drive.

"He said Roszko said, 'They've made a mess of my life. They've got me. Now, I'm going to get them."'

Cheeseman indicated he didn't want to go to the RCMP, but McNish went to the police almost immediately after that conversation.

Some months went by. McNish knew Cheeseman had been smoking pot to help him sleep. He had been showing up stoned for night shifts. Concerned, McNish approached him for another talk on March 17, 2006 - just over a year after the officers were murdered.

"I asked him how he was doing and he said he was really not doing that well," he testified at the preliminary.

"He said to me something to the effect that, 'I knew Roszko was going to kill those RCMP officers.'

"I said, 'How did you know that?'

"He said, 'Because Roszko told me."'

Cheeseman admitted that the story about Roszko bullying him into a ride to the farm was a lie. In truth, he said, he and his brother-in-law Shawn Hennessey had been drawn into the plot a day before the murders and had played a much bigger role than that of innocent wheelmen.

Cheeseman recalled how he left work at about 3:30 p.m. the day before the murders and drove to the home of his cousin, Jesse Zasiedko, to help him move. Sometime around 5 p.m., a concerned Hennessey drove up to the house.

Hennessey and Cheeseman were inseparable chums. Cheeseman even lived with Hennessey and his wife - Cheeseman's sister.

"Shawn came up to him and said, 'I am in big trouble,"' McNish recalled. "The RCMP are all over Jim Roszko's Quonset. I'm involved in that and you need to help me.

"As soon as you're finished helping Jesse move, come home."

Cheeseman told McNish that Hennessey had been selling a lot of the marijuana that Roszko grew. Hennessey feared he would be implicated if Roszko were busted.

When Cheeseman returned home around 9 p.m. Roszko was there, sitting at the kitchen table, a pistol tucked into his belt, eating a bowl of soup. Roszko wanted a ride back to his farm.

"Shawn and I drove him,"' McNish recalled Cheeseman saying.

"(Roszko) indicated to them while they were standing there (that) he was going to go out and kill these RCMP officers."

There was more.

As well as the pistol, Roszko was carrying a rifle that Hennessey's grandfather had given to Hennessey a few years earlier. Roszko had told Cheeseman two days before that he was having trouble with the police and Cheeseman told McNish he had given Roszko the gun. He said he also supplied a bedsheet Roszko used as camouflage.

Roszko told the two of them to follow his truck so he could drive somewhere and drop it off. Hennessey took the wheel while Cheeseman sat in the passenger's seat, terrified that if they didn't play along, Roszko would do something to harm his sister's children.

Roszko and his mother, Stephanie Fyfield, had been pestering his aunt, Ann Chayka, for a place to park his truck.

Chayka testified at the preliminary that she didn't want any part of it. But finally, after being awakened at 10:30 p.m. by yet another pleading call from Fyfield, she gave in.

"She promised me she would pick up the truck at my house. I just got teary-eyed and I gave up. I didn't say yes or no. I just left it at that."

Chayka went back to bed, pulled the covers over her head, and hoped for the best.

The best was not to be.

Const. Steve Vigor and his partner, Const. Garry Hoogestraat, arrived at Roszko's farm the next morning just before 10 a.m. The two officers from the RCMP's auto-theft division greeted their four comrades already on the scene, who were busy trying to tranquillize Roszko's guard dogs with treated meat.

Vigor and Hoogestraat stepped around the back of their vehicle to change into their coveralls when the shooting started.

"I heard two loud bangs," Vigor testified. "It sounded like something banging on the inside of the Quonset."

Another 12 to 15 bangs followed before Vigor realized they were gunshots. He pulled his weapon, told his partner to call for backup and ran to the corner of the Quonset, where the police cars were parked.

"As I did so, a male suspect rounded the Quonset," Vigor told the preliminary hearing.

"He was carrying a long-barrelled weapon in his hands. There was another long-barrelled weapon over his shoulder.

"He turned and had a surprised look on his face. He fired two shots in my direction. I fired two shots back. He stumbled into the Quonset."

Someone screamed from inside the shed. Then Vigor heard a single shot.

Without knowing how many attackers he was facing, or even how many Mounties were there, Vigor could do little but wait behind cover. He could see an officer's right leg - motionless - sticking out the Quonset door.

Vigor and his partner decided to try to raise one of the officers inside on their radios.

"If anyone were alive, we could get them to press the mic buttons and talk to us. Anything.

"There was no movement, no sound," said Vigor, weeping and sipping water to try to control his tears.

Away from the farm, the coverup began.

Chayka testified that Fyfield asked her to lie about the truck

"She said, 'Just tell them some neighbour broke down or something.' And, like a fool, I listened to her."

Zasiedko and Scott Weber, another Sepallo co-worker, fibbed about how long Cheeseman had helped with the movers. And Cheeseman began the long string of lies that ultimately led to his second confession in McNish's office.

"All you had to do was make a phone call," McNish said he told Cheeseman. "Why didn't you call police?"

Cheeseman's response, according to McNish: "I don't know. I was scared. If Roszko got away, he would know who made the phone call and come after us."

McNish said Cheeseman had talked with Hennessey about coming clean, but Hennessey didn't want to say anything. Again, it was McNish who went to the RCMP.

Cheeseman also said that after dropping Roszko off that night, he returned home, went to his room and sat in the dark for a long time.

"He asked me if I could contact the families of the victims," said McNish, who then asked, 'What do you want me to say to them?'

"I just want them to know I'm sorry."

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