Two men sentenced in Mayerthorpe case
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, January 30, 2009 4:54PM EST
An Edmonton judge sentenced Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman to 15 years and 12 years, respectively, for their role in the 2005 murders of four Alberta Mounties.
Hennessey, 29, and his brother-in-law Cheeseman, 25, had been charged with first-degree murder but, last week, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter.
On Friday, Justice Eric Macklin delivered the sentences, siding with the recommendations of the Crown.
The Crown had sought a sentence of 10 to 15 years while the defence was seeking four years less time served.
Both men will have their actual jail time reduced because of time served and because they pleaded guilty before a trial.
In an agreed statement of facts, the men said they provided a rifle and ammunition to James Roszko, then drove him to his Mayerthorpe, Alta. property.
Roszko, using a different rifle, then murdered Constables Brock Myrol, Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston and Peter Schiemann, on March 3, 2005 before turning the gun on himself.
The Mounties were staking out Roszko's property, guarding evidence that was part of an investigation into stolen auto parts and a marijuana grow-op.
Macklin said Hennessey was the guiltier of the two because he actually gave Roszko a rifle before the drive back to his property. He said Cheeseman was essentially little more than a bystander.
Macklin added that he considered the moral culpability of Hennessey "to be as high as it can be for an individual who did not pre-meditate a murder, was not at the scene of the murders and did not fire a gun."
The judge said he accepted the fact Hennessey was under some duress in facing Roszko, and that Hennessey's principal motivation was his desire to have evidence relating to his partnership with Roszko in a grow-op destroyed.
"Though he may not have know that Roszko owned an assault rifle, he knew that the weapons already in Roszko's possession could cause life threatening injuries," continued Macklin.
The suggestion by defence lawyers that Hennessey was afraid of the consequences of warning police of what lay in store for them at Roszko's property, was dismissed by Macklin. "A phone call warning police that Roszko was on the property and armed would simply have allowed the police to properly meet the situation."
Each man received three years off their initial sentence for entering guilty pleas. They will also get credit for time already served in custody before they were released on bail.
In the end, Hennessey will serve 10 years and 4.5 months and Cheeseman will serve 7 years and 2.5 months.
The tragedy was one of the darkest days in the history of the RCMP, marking the worst single-day loss of life in more than a century.
"These four men were Canadian heroes and will be forever remembered as such," Macklin said.
CTV's Janet Dirks, reporting from the courthouse, said family members of the killed RCMP officers expressed gratitude to the judge and thanked Canadians for their support.
"They wept as they said that," she reported Friday after the sentencing.
"They also said that they were glad that these men weren't given a slap on the wrist."
Prior to the sentencing, Hennessey's father, Barry Hennessey, said he was worried the judge's sentencing decision may be influenced by a recording of a confession made by Cheeseman.
Undercover RCMP officers posing as criminals taped Cheeseman admitting to them that he knew Roszko was planning to kill the Mounties.
"Well, obviously we knew that he was going back to kill RCMP officers," Cheeseman admits on the tape.
"He said he was pretty much going to take care of business."
The tape, which was recording during an RCMP sting, was unsealed after the pleas were entered last week.
"You think the judge won't hear this?" Barry Hennessey asked from his home near Barrhead in an interview with The Canadian Press. "It is not fair. It is not right that they released all of this."
He said Cheeseman was scared because he thought the undercover officers were real criminals.
"He was scared for his life," he said. "He thought they were Hells Angels."
Cheeseman and Hennessey spent close to 10 months in pre-trial custody following a preliminary hearing last year.
They were eventually released on bail under strict conditions.
With files from CTV Edmonton and The Canadian Press