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Two men lose Mayerthorpe Mountie appeals

EDMONTON - The Alberta Court of Appeal says four Mounties probably would not have been killed in Mayerthorpe if the gunman hadn't had help from two men convicted for their role in the shootings.

EDMONTON - The Alberta Court of Appeal says four Mounties probably would not have been killed in Mayerthorpe if the gunman hadn't had help from two men convicted for their role in the shootings.

The court on Monday turned down a bid by Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman to get less prison time. The pair were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years respectively after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the March 3, 2005, deaths.

Lawyers for the two men argued that the sentences were vengeful and too severe and that the men had been acting out of fear of known cop-hater James Roszko.

In a written ruling, two of three Alberta Court of Appeal justices wrote that the sentences were appropriate for the worst such crime in Canada's history.

"Help for Roskzo was vital. He probably could not have performed any of the crimes unaided," Justice Jean Cote wrote on behalf of himself and Justice Elizabeth McFadyen.

"I would dismiss Hennessey's appeal. To cut Cheeseman's sentence significantly would come much too close to the minimum sentence for a single killing, yet this is a grave multiple crime."

Court heard that the two men gave Roszko a rifle and a ride back to his farm on the night constables Anthony Gordon, Brock Myrol, Leo Johnston and Peter Schiemann were gunned down. Roszko killed himself after being wounded in a shootout with another officer.

He had had many run-ins with the law in the years leading up to the shootings.

The justices rejected arguments that Hennessey and Cheeseman were terrified of Roszko. They also agreed that once the two men dropped him off that night, they had seven hours to warn the RCMP that he was armed and seeking a confrontation with police.

"There is no evidence of any overt threat by Roszko to Hennessey or to Cheeseman," the judgment reads. "Any plausibility of intimidation as a mitigating factor disappeared once Roszko was out of the car."

Justice Peter Martin wrote a dissenting opinion that said Cheeseman did almost nothing to facilitate the crime and the court should reconsider his sentence.

Relatives of the slain constables said they were heartened by the Appeal Court's ruling.

"I am quite please that they ruled against them," said Gordon's mother, Doreen Jewell-Duffy. "One of these days they get to come home. Our sons will never get to come home."

Colleen Myrol, mother of Brock Myrol, said the ruling should drive home the point of how serious aiding and abetting a crime can be. Peter Schiemann's father, Don, said he hopes the two men accept the ruling and reflect on it so they can heal.

The appeal's rejection was a bitter blow to the extended families of Hennessey and Cheeseman.

Hennessey's mother, Sandy, said the family plans to take time to discuss the judgment before deciding what to do next.

The men could seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"I'm devastated. I'm very, very disappointed in the justice system once again," she said.

Hersh Wolch, Hennessey's lawyer, said he and Peter Royal, Cheeseman's lawyer, are still reviewing the decision.

"We still feel that these young men have been treated very severely given their involvement," Wolch said.

"To us it just appears that the magnitude of the horrific crime has been extended too far to these two young people whose involvement in our view was quite minimal and under duress."

According to a statement of facts, Hennessey, 30, said he helped Roszko because he was part of Roszko's marijuana grow-op. Cheeseman, 26, helped because he was Hennessey's brother-in-law.

During the appeal, Royal pointed out that it was Cheeseman who said, after the two had dropped off Roszko, that they should call police and warn them. Hennessey overruled the idea.

Royal suggested that a sentence of six to eight years would be more appropriate for Cheeseman. Cote and McFadyen didn't buy that.

"The argument most pressed by Cheeseman’s counsel is the suggestion that his physical role was small, and so his sentence should be small too," Cote wrote. "Also cited is the odd remark by the sentencing reasons that Cheeseman was 'hardly more than a bystander.' I do not agree with any of that."

After credit for his guilty plea and pre-trial custody, Cheeseman is serving a total of seven years, two months and 15 days, but is eligible for full parole next June.

Hennessey was granted similar credits for total prison time of 10 years, fours months and 15 days. Full parole, if granted, would start July 15, 2012.

A fatality inquiry into the Mayerthorpe killings is to begin Jan. 11.

Alberta Justice hailed the Appeal Court ruling.

"The Crown vigorously opposed this appeal," said Kim Misik, a department spokeswoman.

"Our thoughts are with the families of the four officers and about how difficult it is for (the families) to have to continue this process. We hope they can take a little bit of comfort from today's decision."

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