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Hells murder trials begin

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Two trials involving 51 men alleged to be members of the Hells Angels, or associates of the biker gang, saw their trials on multiple murder charges officially begin Friday.

The words "not guilty" were repeated often at the Gouin courthouse as 50 of the accused entered their pleas to many charges including one count of conspiracy to commit murder as well as 22 first-degree murder charges. One of the accused could not attend the hearing because he is currently being treated for stomach cancer.

Not all of the accused are charged with the murders, which occurred within the context of a conflict over drug trafficking turf between the Hells Angels and other organized crime groups. The prosecution's theory is the gang voted in favour of the war and contributed to it being carried out, roughly between 1994 and 2002. The 51 accused are expected to be tried in two separate trials and are split based on which chapters - Sherbrooke and Quebec City - they are allegedly affiliated with.

Superior Court Justice James Brunton presided over one hearing, involving 29 men alleged to be part of the Sherbrooke chapter while Justice Martin Vauclair handled a case involving 22 accused in another room at the courthouse which was specially built for such large trials.

The hearing was the first related to Operation SharQc since Brunton's bombshell decision on May 31 to place a stay of proceedings on the cases of 31 people who were only charged with drug trafficking in a major police investigation that produced indictments against 156 people in all. One has since died and 19 are still being sought by police.

In the same decision, Brunton set the timetable, which officially began Friday. Under that plan, five separate murder trials will be held. People alleged to be members or associates of the South and Trois Rivières chapters will be tried in 2013 and the Montreal chapter in 2015.

However, Brunton made it clear Friday that things could change before a jury or a judge begins hearing evidence. Lawyers will return to the courthouse in September for a two-week hearing to analyze the Crown's evidence. Following that, Brunton said, some of the accused might request a trial before a judge alone while another group might prefer a trial before a jury. Brunton said if that happens there should be no problem with transferring an accused from one case to the other.

"Your work starts now," Brunton told the many lawyers gathered in his courtroom Friday morning. He also noted many of the accused in the Sherbrooke chapter case have yet to hire lawyers. He urged the men to hire an attorney soon and advised them having an attorney will become crucial in the coming months.



A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty

A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty

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