Saturday, May 15, 2010
Timekeeper for deadly beating given immunity
A former Stony Mountain inmate who claims he was the "timekeeper" for a deadly prison beating was granted immunity by Manitoba justice officials in exchange for his testimony.
On Friday, jurors learned of the deal with Steven Courchene, who is the Crown's key witness against four gang members now on trial for the March 2005 slaying. His credibility, and the evidence he is expected to give, will be challenged by defence lawyers.
David Tavares, 40, was jumped while in a prison recreation room in what the Crown says was a disciplinary hearing that got out of hand. Victor Ryle, who is accused of ordering the attack, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.
Alvin Cote, Charles Coaster and Evan Myran allegedly carried out the attack and are charged with second-degree murder.
RCMP Cpl. Ian MacInnis told jurors Friday investigators got a major break when Courchene contacted them weeks after the killing, wanting to talk about what he'd witnessed. Courchene -- who had just been released from the medium-security facility -- admitted to holding a stopwatch while the others attacked Tavares for what was supposed to be a designated period of time.
MacInnis said they made no promises to Courchene -- and took no action following his admissions.
"I take it, as a police officer, if someone confesses to murder you usually arrest them. In this case, he gave you a confession and you drove him home," defence lawyer Martin Glazer said.
MacInnis said he wanted to discuss the developments with the Crown attorney's office, which normally authorizes charges in homicides.
In this case, a prosecutor suggested offering Courchene immunity from any prosecution for his role in exchange for giving evidence against the others.
More than two years passed before the four accused were arrested and charged. MacInnis said there were many aspects to the case including analysis of more than 200 seized exhibits, many of which were sent for time-consuming DNA testing.
MacInnis admitted Friday Courchene repeatedly breached conditions of the immunity agreement by going on the run, not giving police his new address or phone number and not checking in for months at a time.
RCMP had grounds to revoke the deal and charge Courchene in the slaying, but chose not to.
"So he's still getting special treatment," Glazer said.
Tavares died after being punched and knocked to the floor near some pool tables where he was repeatedly kicked in the head. The attackers dragged him to a washroom.
Tavares was found unconscious after staff closed the recreation centre. He was taken to the infirmary and was later pronounced dead.
Tavares was in Stony Mountain serving a 39-month sentence for driving-related offences. He had become a member of the Native Syndicate street gang while in prison but had angered fellow gang members by his conduct, which included openly complaining about several people owing him money.