LONDON, Ont. – An internal cleansing of the Bandidos biker gang that saw eight bullet-ridden bodies stuffed into cars and abandoned in rural southwestern Ontario resulted Thursday in 44 first-degree murder convictions — including eight for Wayne Kellestine, the purported mastermind of the slaying.
Five other men who were portrayed at trial, along with Kellestine, as power-hungry schemers or wannabes gunning for status in the outlaw motorcycle club were all found guilty of various counts of first-degree murder.
A couple’s discovery of four cars near their rural property on April 8, 2006 would lead police to a gruesome scene — the bodies of the eight men shot at least 24 times at close range and crammed into the vehicles.
They were found just kilometres away from Kellestine’s farmhouse. During a six-month trial that heard from more than 70 witnesses, prosecutors successfully argued that seven of the eight men were led out of Kellestine’s barn and executed, one by one.
It’s believed to be Ontario’s largest mass slaying.
Many of the defence lawyers for Kellestine’s co-accused branded him a “psychopath” and a “monster” and placed the blame at his feet.
On Thursday, Kellestine, Dwight Mushey and former police officer Michael Sandham were found guilty of eight counts each of first-degree murder after just 14 hours of jury deliberations over less than two days.
After the first verdict was read Kellestine nodded his head slightly, and when his fate was sealed he looked at one of his lawyers and raised his eyebrows.
Kellestine’s lead lawyer, Clay Powell, said outside court that his client was probably expecting the guilty verdicts, and added “he’s fine.”
The jury, however, didn’t put all the blame on him. They appear to have accepted the Crown’s submission that if at any point any of the men on trial forcibly confined any of the men who were killed, it had to be first-degree murder.
Four manslaughter verdicts — one for Frank Mather, one for Marcelo Aravena and two for Brett Gardiner — were rendered in cases where the men appeared on the scene after someone had been killed.
Mather and Aravena were also found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder, and Gardiner was found guilty of six counts.
As the judge thanked the jury for their service, Aravena raised both middle fingers high and launched into an obscenity-laden tirade against both the jury and his lawyer. He was removed from the court while lawyers discussed sentencing scheduling.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. Even so, lawyers return to court Friday for sentencing so family members of the victims get a chance to make victim impact statements.
Sandham’s lawyer, Donald Crawford, said his client was “disappointed obviously.”
“I’ve always said over the years that you always should trust the jury,” Crawford said outside the court.
“I don’t understand how the jury could get through all that evidence… in something like a day and a half.”
Mather is “definitely” appealing, said his lawyer, Greg Leslie. Mather was not a Bandido and had been staying at Kellestine’s house, and while the Crown presented evidence he was a Bandido supporter and wanted to become a prospect, his lawyer said he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Mr. Mather’s very disappointed,” Leslie said outside court. “He’s almost in a state of shock.”
The Crown successfully argued that the murders were the result of rising tensions between the dead men and the probationary Bandidos chapter in Winnipeg.
Kellestine, a member of the Toronto chapter, had become increasingly alienated from his Toronto brothers and allied with the Winnipeg men.
Court heard he had received orders from U.S. Bandidos officials to strip the Toronto men of their gang affiliation and start a new Canadian chapter, but at some point in the days or hours leading up to the killings the plan changed to mass murder.
Killed that fateful night was 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.
Ontario Provincial Police Det.-Insp. Paul Beesley, who was in charge of the case, said justice was served for the families of those eight men.
“Biker gangs are inherently violent and I think that this trial has given us a glimpse into the lifestyle of motorcycle gangs,” he said outside court.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a biker or what, killing is wrong and I think the jury recognized that today.”
The Crown’s case centred on testimony M.H., a man who is now an informant but was a member of the Winnipeg Bandidos and at Kellestine’s farmhouse the night of the killings.
Court heard the Toronto men were summoned to Kellestine’s farm for a meeting that night and the accused spent hours cleaning and loading a stockpile of weapons after Kellestine told them to “be prepared for the worst.”
Kellestine also said “if we kill one, we kill them all,” the Crown said, adding that forms a conditional plan to kill and constitutes first-degree murder.
Outside court Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey thanked the jury, police and other Crown counsel, and notably the families of the victims.
“While no verdict can turn back the clock for them we really appreciate their support during these many months in the face of the great loss that they’ve suffered,” he said.
Over the six-months the jury was presented with the following story on which to base their deliberations.
After the eight men arrived and were assembled with Kellestine in his barn, Sandham was hiding in the barn’s loft wearing a bulletproof vest and M.H. and Mushey were hiding around back holding guns, the jury was told.
From his hiding place Sandham, who had recently learned two men had been sent to kill him after learning he used to be a police officer with the now defunct East St. Paul force just outside of Winnipeg, heard Toronto member Luis Raposo talking about killing him.
Sandham then popped out of his hiding place and shot Raposo, who he says shot at him first.
Kellestine ordered the other men to lie on the floor and he, Sandham and M.H. frisked them, emptying their pockets of cellphones, change, IDs and knives. The same was done to their vehicles, with some of the accused removing vehicle registrations and other contents.
Raposo’s condition quickly deteriorated and the group pronounced him dead, lying on the barn floor in a pool of blood. Kellestine ordered two other men, Jamie Flanz and Michael Trotta, to roll up the body in a rug, take it outside and to clean up the blood on the floor.
After Raposo’s death the remaining seven men were led outside one by one, mostly by Kellestine, who several times danced a jig, sang a Nazi song, made a derogatory comment about Flanz being Jewish and told him, “I’m going to save you for last.”
The men were ordered to get in the vehicles in which they came and were shot at close range. There were conflicting accounts about which men — of M.H., Sandham, Mushey and Mather — accompanied Kellestine out with which Toronto men. Gardiner was told to stay in the farmhouse that night and was only briefly in the barn, court heard.
Kellestine complained about having to do all the “wet work” and Flanz was shot by Sandham and Mushey, according to M.H.
When the slaughter was over and dawn was beginning to break Kellestine told the other accused and M.H. to drive the five vehicles — one being the Volkswagen and another a car for them in which to return — east toward Kitchener, Ont.
One of the cars ran out of gas in Shedden, just 14 kilometres from Kellestine’s farmhouse, so the group left the vehicles on a farmer’s field and by the side of the road and headed back to the farm.