LONDON, Ont. – The first of eight biker gang members to die one night in April 2006 at a farm in southwestern Ontario was shot only because one of the accused, who was just trying to defuse a tense situation, “flinched,” court heart Wednesday.
Six men, several of whom are allegedly linked to a rival faction of the Bandidos, are on trial charged with eight counts of first-degree murder. The bodies of eight men were found stuffed into vehicles down the road from that farm, which belonged to one of the accused, Wayne Kellestine.
The defence began its case Wednesday with accused Michael Sandham taking the stand.
Court has previously heard that there were rising tensions between the Toronto chapter of the Bandidos and club officials in the United States, as well as with the Winnipeg Bandidos, which was a probationary chapter.
The night of April 7, 2006, eight members of the Toronto Bandidos were in Kellestine’s barn with Kellestine, and the other accused hiding, Sandham testified. Sandham had recently learned the Toronto members were planning to kill him and overheard them discussing it from his hiding place.
When Sandham, accused Dwight Mushey and a man known only as MH because he is now an informant, popped out of their hiding places, one of the Toronto men, Luis Raposo, reached for a gun, Sandham testified.
Sandham told Raposo to stop, that they just wanted to talk, but “he’s just grinning, ignoring me and he shoots.”
The shot hit Sandham, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, and on impact he fired the gun in his hand accidentally, Sandham said.
“I flinched … and my gun went off,” Sandham testified.
“You’re not denying that you shot him?” his lawyer, Don Crawford, asked.
“No, not at all,” Sandham replied. “Everything happened so fast.”
Sandham, who was allegedly a member of the Winnipeg chapter, and Kellestine, who was allegedly a member of the Toronto chapter but had been on the outs with them, had orders from the U.S. to kill two of the Toronto members, Sandham testified.
After Raposo was shot, MH also fired his weapon, which caused Kellestine to flinch and fire the gun in his hands, Sandham testified. He said that shot grazed the leg of one of the Toronto men.
Court previously heard testimony from MH, the Crown’s star witness, that as Raposo lay dying on the barn floor, the remaining men were led outside one by one, never to return. MH testified he saw Kellestine outside the barn shoot one of the Toronto men, George Jessome, twice.
There was no plan to kill anyone that night, Sandham said, adding that the accused men just wanted to “pull the patches” of the Toronto members, meaning they would be stripped of their Bandido membership.
Sandham, who broke down on the stand describing how after he overheard plans for his death, portrayed himself as someone trying to be calm and responsible, to make a dangerous situation safer.
“I thought I was going to get killed … that I might have to shoot somebody to get out of here,” he testified. He said when he stood up from his hiding place he did so “concerned for people’s safety,” because “I’m always nervous when guns are around.”
Earlier that day Sandham testified he overheard Kellestine, Mushey and MH talking about “murdering” two of the Toronto men “and cutting them up into little pieces.”
Sandham, a former police officer who also said he dabbled in “mobile tattooing,” told court he later confronted Kellestine, reminding him that many people knew he and the other men from Winnipeg were at Kellestine’s farm and that they should be careful.
“Being a former police officer I know that,” Sandham said. “You just can’t get away with that.”
Kellestine laughed, hugged Sandham and told him he was kidding, just “putting on a show” for the newer members and associates. The other co-accused are Frank Mather, Brett Gardiner and Marcelo Aravena.
“No blood will be spilled on my property,” Sandham recalled Kellestine as saying.
That’s in contrast to earlier testimony from MH, who said Kellestine declared “If we kill one we kill them all” and that while rounding up a cache of guns stored all over his farmhouse, Kellestine told the rest of the co-accused to “be prepared for the worst.”
But when Kellestine said such things he was just trying to instil fear in newer Bandido recruits, Sandham testified.
“He has a very dark sense of humour,” he said.
To illustrate his point Sandham described one time in the days leading up to the slaying of the eight men when some of the accused went for a walk in the woods and Kellestine put what appeared to be dried up deer feces in his mouth and chewed it.
“He does anything for a laugh,” Sandham said. “That’s just the way he is.”
The shooting victims were George Jessome, 52, George Kriarakis, 28, John Muscedere, 48, Luis Raposo, 41, Frank Salerno, 43, Paul Sinopoli, 30, Jamie Flanz, 37, and Michael Trotta, 31.