Roulette’s legal chips dwindle

(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)
(The Maryland Street multi-plex where gang members Jesse Henderson and Dennis Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)

It had all the usual signs of many riveting, yet unbelievably tragic, premeditated murder cases.

Two young, gang-linked men, Jesse Henderson and Dennis Baptiste — mysteriously and savagely cut down in the prime of their lives inside a Maryland Street four-plex after being seen at a cocaine-fuelled party at an Exchange District theme hotel.

A fire set in what appeared to be a failed attempt to destroy evidence at the crime scene. A missing TV set. Some, but not tons, of physical evidence to go on.

Blood everywhere.

And then came months and months of waiting for an arrest as Winnipeg police worked all kinds of different angles to try and get to the truth of things.

Such was the visible the backdrop to Kenneth Roulette’s trial, which ended in his conviction on two counts of first-degree murder.

But behind the scenes, one of the more interesting legal battles I’ve seen was playing out.

In June 2013, Roulette sought to have his charges tossed out, alleging a failure by prosecutors to disclose evidence in the case had effectively ruined his chance at defending against the charges.

The unusual move — in which Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar found there was delay caused by the Crown’s slowness to disclose — didn’t work and the trial went ahead a few months later.

The key evidence against Roulette was testimony from two unsavory witnesses, one of whom was (by time of trial) a deceased crack addict and naturally couldn’t be cross-examined beyond what defence lawyer Greg Brodsky was able to do at a preliminary hearing when Russell Glow was still alive and in witness protection.

It came as zero surprise to me that Roulette quickly launched an appeal after being convicted given the quirks in the case.

But this week, he found out he’d lost that fight too. Here’s Court of Appeal Justice Alan MacInnes’s reasons why that’s so.

It remains to be seen if Brodsky will take the case to the Supreme Court in hopes of winning a new trial for Roulette.

Murder most foul and we don’t care

(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)
(The multi-plex where gang membersHenderson and Baptiste were killed on Jan 31, 2009)

 

[EDIT: A slightly-revised version of this post appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday edition on Sept. 15. Below is the original version].

I keep wondering why more folk in the general public don’t appear to care all too much that two young aboriginal men were brutally cut down in the prime of their lives, killed brutally inside a shabby suite in a West End multiplex.

Yes, Dennis Baptiste and Jessie Henderson were members of a feared and loathed Winnipeg street gang, the Mad Cowz.

But for many young aboriginal men in a city where baby-faced teens somehow can get their hands on a .357 Magnum and carry it about with seeming impunity to kill over ridiculous notions of revenge, gang membership or association is to people in some particular circumstances, more akin to a Scouts club or after-school sports program might be for semi-affluent kids who live in Winnipeg’s sprawling suburbs.

And therein lies the rub of it. Our ability to look the other way or shrug our shoulders at the deaths of these men speaks to a fundamentally larger problem our society suffers from.

That being: a shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more. That’s my gut feeling. And I trust my gut.

Live by the sword, die by the sword,” one person replied to me on Twitter tonight when I expressed my angst on this topic.

I celebrate every time one or more of these drug dealer/gangsters gets snuffed,” said another.

Bullshit, I say to them here in reply. These are the answers of cowards.

Dismiss out of hand what you refuse to even try to understand.

Eye for an eye is an exercise in mental gymnastics which will take us nowhere.

Regardless of anything: These two 23-year-old were living, breathing people, goddammit. For example: Baptiste had two young children. He had a long-time partner who cared about him. He lived, he breathed.

And dear God, how he bled.

I never met either of these men. And I’m pretty much sure they would have spat on me — or at least eyed me with extreme suspicion — if I had ever had the courage to walk up and say hello.

That’s not the point. The point is that between my cowardice and what I assume would be their disdain are symptoms of a sickness.

Just as street gangs are symptoms of a larger sickness still — a generational, trickle-down illness of poverty, rampant unfairness, inequality and racism.

I deplore senseless violence. I detest gangs and their uber-profitable, miserable businesses of drug-and-human trafficking, just to name two of the major income streams.

But to the degree an outsider can, I understand why the gangs exist and how they persist.  And I know we don’t (or is it can’t or won’t?) do nearly enough as a society to be able to convince gang members to want to get out, that something better is waiting on the other side.

I find it very, very difficult to simply say, ‘meh‘ to a life cut senselessly, brutally, criminally short.

But that’s what I see happening when it comes to the overall public reaction to the murder trial — a process trying to find some justice for Henderson and Baptiste.

Media coverage, aside from the daily newspapers, has been scant, despite wide-spread coverage of their deaths when they were discovered.

It makes no sense to me how there’s little follow-through.

But I won’t get too deep into that, because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. This brings me to what I wanted to point out. My appreciation.

I don’t know if the Winnipeg police have it right in charging Ken Roulette – reportedly a friend of these men — with the deaths.

There are things about this case I’ve seen so far that don’t quite add up to me, at least just yet.

But in the end, it’s not up to me, or you, to decide. In this way, we’re just observers to the work six men and six women are now charged with doing.

But what I do know is that homicide investigators and the two seasoned Crown prosecutors now putting in the case didn’t have the choice of saying, ‘Meh,’ and shrugging their shoulders when called on to try and bring some resolution to this awful matter.

What I do know is that two of Winnipeg’s best defence lawyers don’t appear to be conceding one inch of territory to their state adversaries — another hallmark of criminal-legal seriousness. The stakes are huge here.

There’s an aura to the proceedings as a whole which I can only describe as spine-tingling. It hangs over the courtroom like a pregnant dark cloud.

To me, it’s right and just that this feeling persists. The awfulness of what happened here can’t be brushed aside, despite my fear it will.

Ask yourself this. If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St. Vital who were killed in this fashion — what would the interest be then?

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Dope-dealing kids and perpetuating the false promise of gang life

ImageWhen an adult gets pinched for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, he’s more than likely envisioning prison time as the picture of what his future will look like, for better or for worse.

A juvenile? Not so much.

That’s even when convicted of multiple counts of trafficking an incredibly addictive drug known for its violent spinoffs and contribution to social decay.

That was evident today during a sentencing for a 16-year-old Mad Cowz gang member who pleaded guilty to not one, but two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking crack since last fall, along with a joyriding charge and several breaches — many of which had to do with his persistence in handing around with other Mad Cowz.

Mad Cowz have been in the news a fair amount as of late, largely because of a recent police project which took down 10 members of the gang’s so-called “hierarchy.”

If memory serves, five of the 10 were youths. The teen in question was not one of those picked up in Project Recall.

(The project’s work began in earnest — perhaps co-incidentally, perhaps not — after a Mad Cowz-linked fatal shooting of a rival B-Side gang member in a late-night restaurant in February.)

In any event: the teen sentenced today has been out of custody on bail for all but the last few weeks.

In one trafficking charge, he was nabbed Oct. 28 by eagle-eyed cops on Ellice avenue with a garbage bag with 27 rocks of crack inside it after the youth was seen trying to pitch it, and then going back for it when he thought the cops stopped watching.

He also had $260 cash on him. He’s arrested, released from the youth jail but back in, briefly, by Nov. 15, when he breached curfew and was tracked down with the help of a K9 dog and the police chopper.

And then, most recently, he is picked up again May 21 after being spotted on Beverly Street in the company of one of the Project Recall youth suspects, one who was granted bail after his arrest in the project [also a youth].

This time, he’s nabbed holding 16 rocks of crack and $135 cash and a cell phone.

The teen has no record. Therefore, his sentence was pretty much written in stone the minute he started seeking a Crown position: Two years of supervised probation and a relatively stern talking-to by the judge who cautioned him of what he’d be facing if he was just two years older, and how he didn’t believe the offender when he says he was preyed upon by other Mad Cowz members to take part in the gang.

At the end of the day, we have to wrestle with how this sentence in any way stops him from trafficking again, forces him to take the justice system seriously.

It mystifies me, personally.

(And lest we misplace blame, it’s the Youth Criminal Justice Act which really determines how it all shakes out, not the judge nor the lawyers).

And it’s not that I feel he’s getting off light. It’s just that he’s shown he can’t comply on bail, so I question what good a punishment of probation in the community will do for him — and for us.

I also wonder about the message the sentence sends the gang’s higher-ups, who are watching closely how the system reacts to what they’re doing.

That crack doesn’t just come from nowhere.

The revolving door of youths being effectively used by adult offenders to do their dirty work can’t close if the head honchos are perpetually told that the penalties are so light.

The false promise of gang life will continue to be sold.

Nigel Dixon homicide; the atmosphere in which it happened

(Police search for clues to catch Nigel Dixon's killer)
(Police search for clues to catch Nigel Dixon’s killer)

Why?

It’s the question which routinely gnaws at most acts of horrific violence anywhere, and one police investigators and prosecutors often foist themselves on while trying to resolve cases, make arrests and bring criminals to justice.

The callous April 2 broad-daylight murder of Nigel Dixon, 20, in the 500 block of Langside Street is no different. A woman he was with was also shot, but thankfully survived.

Police have said the two were approached and shot after being approached by a group of gang members and asked what gang affiliation they had. When they denied any gang ties, they were shot, and Dixon killed.

Again: In broad daylight, not far from a busy street (Ellice). It’s beyond chilling. It’s absolutely reprehensible.

While I’m tempted to get into a diatribe — a useless one, no doubt — about how there’s been little to no public condemnation of such a horrific act from our political leaders in the wake of the shootings, I’ve learned by now it will simply fall on deaf ears.

A rant put down to more whinging about a problem many in power in this province simply can’t publicly admit even exists.

But I can offer maybe a glimmer of information about the atmosphere in the immediate inner-city/Spence neighbourhood/West End area in the weeks prior to Dixon’s death.

There’s a bona fide street gang war going on over drug turf. And it’s not sticks and stones being used to fight it.

And the gangsters behind it are nervous and on edge.

Here’s one theory why:

Tuesday, a 23-year-old “entrenched” Manitoba Warriors member was denied bail on several weapons charges.

He’s been in since Feb. 19, when police in the Street Crimes Unit nabbed him while near a home in the 500 block of Furby — pretty much right near where Dixon was shot weeks later, just a block and a half over.

He’s accused of transporting a sawed-off shotgun (and several shells of ammo) in a duffel bag to that home, described as a “well-known” “crack shack.”

The crack house used to belong to the Mad Cowz street gang, but around the time of the arrest cops got some interesting, and no doubt concerning, information: “The Manitoba Warriors has taken control over this crack shack and would be arming themselves to prevent retaliation from the Mad Cowz,” the Crown told court.

When arresting the MW member (he’s only accused and not convicted so I won’t name him here), he told police the gun “was for protection against rival gang members,” Judge Judith Elliott was told.

Hmmm.

A few weeks later, Dixon, an innocent (and his female friend) are shot by gangsters suspicious about their affiliation a block over. It’s entirely probable one of the two gangs — scared at potentially losing more crack turf to the other — is out conducting “sweeps” in the area in hopes of either gaining or not losing more ground.

Ask yourself why Phil Haiart, another innocent, was shot and killed years back, along with a man he was out walking at the time, not far from where the most recent shootings took place.

It was Jeff Cansanay and Corey Spence of the African Mafia firing rounds off at then-rival Mad Cowz gangsters near their McGee St. crack house after several other attacks on the place in the days and hours prior.

Today, a source was telling me there’s been several other “Who you reppin?” — style incidents in the West End, ones where people are approached by a pack and questioned about affiliations.

The animals are restless and nervous, folks. Hope it doesn’t get worse as the weather heats up. Because the temperature in the West End (as usual?) is already pretty hot right now.

‘I never had that kind of power!’

‘I never had that kind of power!’

Pissed off at their gang pal being maced and mugged by a rival banger, five people — all relatively young — elect to get revenge.

Their chosen method of retribution?

Storm out of their Furby Street safehouse armed with hockey sticks, head into a basement suite at a nearby Sherbrook Street apartment block and torch the place by stuffing paper, sheets, blankets — whatever — onto the hot stove. And then run.

“Gonzos,” a co-accused is reported as saying as he put stuff over the hot stove. “Everything’s on fire.” The entire building was destroyed. Many lost everything except the clothes on their backs.

“As soon as I saw the fire, I ran,” the youth said. “I couldn’t believe the smoke.”

What proof did the Bloodz gang have to show this apartment should be targeted?

They once saw a Mad Cowz member hanging out in there. So, nothing conclusive. Basically just a hunch.

One result: a $1-million dollar devastation, 40 people left homeless, 19 of those people [including a bunch of kids] hospitalized, a pregnant woman’s miscarriage, and a whole whack of terror and fear for innocents who to this day still have trouble sleeping lest they not get out alive again.

Another result? A 17-year-old ‘kid’ now entertaining the option of being able to run his own gang crew because of the notoriety his despicable act of arson gained him.

Another result: Three adult suspects likely to skate easy in court because it’s going to be difficult to prove who actually did what and when.

And the final result: A suspect on the lam for nearly a year now because family members are choosing to hide him from police on some reserve instead of doing the right thing and hauling him into the nearest police detachment to face justice.

Yes. Oh yes. There have been very few crimes in Winnipeg of late that have both intrigued me, sickened me and infuriated me like the gang-retribution arson at 577 Sherbrook St. — perpetrated Jan. 14 in the early morning hours when many of the children, women and men peacefully living out their lives there were likely sleeping and had to run like hell to save their skins.

I wonder how they’d feel today knowing one of the people who caused their misery — he’s 17 today — now stands to gain from it if he so chooses.

From the Crown, referencing the psych report conducted for the youth’s benefit after he pleaded guilty:

“I think the most jarring part of this is his gang membership and how he feels about it … when asked about his future plans regarding gang association, he states he’s not certain what else he wants to do. On one hand, he says he’s considering quitting the gang association. However on the other hand now he could be a leader, have his own gang or crew,” Ericka Dolcetti, quoting from the report.

“And he added as an exclamation: ‘I never had that kind of power!,’

“He’s not learned from this at all. In fact, maybe this has given him some street cred,” Dolcetti said.

“… He is absolutely a danger to the public,” Dolcetti said today. “He uses his fists and he doesn’t use his words.”

When the group fled the scene, they returned to the safe house and continued partying.

“Yeah, we got them!,” “I lit up the kitchen!,” and “I lit up the couch,” were their happy cries.

When cops arrived a few minutes later, the officers themselves heard though the door:

“I burnt the whole fucking place down — go check it out!,”

The party ended when cops came through the door at gunpoint. The jig was up.

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Since the age of 6, the offender in question has been bounced from CFS foster placement to CFS foster placement — as many as 15 times in a decade.

He drinks, yes, but weed is his daily drug of choice (although he’s experimented with cocaine, morphine, ecstasy and Restoril).

“Weed is my best friend … I can’t answer if I’d ever stop,” he told a probation officer.

In recent years, he’s had several family members die. That’s been hard on him.

Due to the constant shuffling around, he has major attachment issues, feels “frequently worthless and has been diagnosed with PTSD due to his upbringing. He lives “vividly in the moment of past trauma,” a leading youth psychotherapist says. He has an “overreaction to threats, real or imagined.”

He says it was a female cousin who “pressured” him into tagging along with the group that morning — pushed him out the door, telling him to go back up his brothers.

“He is remorseful,” his lawyer says.

The youth gave an oddly-worded apology for his actions in court. Odd in the sense his words seemed so careful and structured that one couldn’t help but question their sincerity.

“[I] take responsibility on my part — [I] burned down that apartment building. I know it’s irreversible what I’ve done. I’m very remorseful for the people I hurt, the pain I caused  and damage I caused [to] people in that apartment building.

Alcohol and drugs had a really bad effect on me that night. I plan to work on that during my stay at the Agassiz Youth Centre. I also plan to work on my social skills, my employment skills and other skills that are available to me at the Agassiz Youth Centre.

I’ve suffered lots, lots of deaths in my life — losing my mom and dad [is a] big problem for me … depression, overwhelmed with anger … I still have major thinking errors.”

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At the time of the arson, the youth was on probation and had been AWOL from his latest group home for just shy of a month.

Prior to that, he breached conditions of his probation on Dec. 5, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. It wasn’t stated in court why he wasn’t breached and put back in lockup after he came back on the 6th.

Prior to that, between October 21-29, he also breached by not returning to his group home.

Prior to that, on Aug 22-23, he didn’t check in as directed to do so. He was arrested for this and got bail.

There’s no real point of presenting any of the above, except a certain professional satisfaction that there will be a record of this somewhere — a record beyond the basic newspaper retelling of what happened, and how such a major crime was dealt with by the system.

This kid is a mess, and you could with a straight face make the argument he never really had a chance to be anything but.

At the end of the day however, he’ll be free 27 months from now. And I hope, sincerely, we’ve seen the last of the worst he’s capable of doing.

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