Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Former Hells Angels secures immediate release
A former Manitoba Hells Angels member struck a deal with justice officials Wednesday that saw him admit to killing a man inside a Winnipeg bar in exchange for his immediate freedom.
Billy Bowden, 34, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years of time already served, which was given double-time credit of four years. He was expected to be returned to the community by the end of the day.
Bowden admitted to playing a role in the November 2007 stabbing death of 24-year-old Jeff Engen inside the Empire Cabaret. A co-accused, Matt Wegier, remains before the courts and is set to go on trial in March 2011.
Prosecutor Daniel Chaput told Queen’s Bench Justice Rick Saull there were several problems with the Crown’s case against Bowden that prompted the plea bargain for a much lighter sentence than usual. Although there were more than 50 potential witnesses to the killing, Chaput said "surprisingly very few had much to say about what happened."
As well, there are no witnesses putting the knife in Bowden’s hand and the Crown can only prove he participated in the group attack.
"It was the unknowns the Crown struggled with. We couldn’t say who stabbed the victim. We couldn’t say Mr. Bowden knew a knife was present or that the victim was being stabbed," said Chaput.
He said the Crown would have sought a longer sentence against Bowden if he were convicted at trial.
"Equally, he could have been acquitted. This way, the Crown secures a manslaughter conviction and a sentence we recognize is on the low end of the spectrum," said Chaput.
Engen, a bodybuilder, was in the basement lounge of the Empire when he got into a dispute with several men about Bowden’s ex-girlfriend, court was told.
Engen was stabbed four times, including one which pierced his heart. He then climbed the stairs to get help, but collapsed near the dance floor. Despite efforts by a patron of the club to revive him, Engen died.
Witnesses said they were surprised a weapon got past the club's new security measures -- including a full-body metal detector -- which had been put in place after four people were shot and wounded there a month before Engen's stabbing.
The club's owner, Sabino Tummillo, closed the Empire's doors shortly after the stabbing and it never re-opened.
Bowden joined the Hells Angels in July 2004 but was kicked out of the gang in 2006 following an internal dispute, according to sources.
He has a lengthy criminal record which includes being caught by police with a loaded gun just two months after Engen’s slaying. He eventually pleaded guilty and was given six months of time in custody spent in custody plus a fine. Bowden admitted in court he had been carrying the gun "for his own protection."
Bowden also made headlines in March 2005 when he was shot in the leg by a gang associate in the Dirty Laundry bar at 720 Corydon Ave. The shooter was also shot and wounded by someone returning fire, but no one was ever charged. Dirty Laundry closed shortly after the incident.
This article is biased in that it says little to nothing about the defence lawyers' statements and does not mention anything relating to the defendant's background or childhood. Most often, people join gangs because they are are living in poverty and feel the need to have a sense of belonging and identity which they receive in a gang. A plea bargain is better than an acquittal though and is there is insufficient evidence as to whether this man held the knife or not. I believe that gang members need more community supports and resources, not prison.