Bill PhillipsBlack Press
Cody Legebokoff’s appeal of his murder convictions has been denied.
The B.C. Court of Appeal, in a unanimous decision, turned down the appeal. In 2014, a 12-person jury found Legebokoff guilty of four counts of first degree murder in the 2009/ 2010 deaths of Jill Stuchenko, Natasha Montgomery, Cynthia Maas and Loren Donn Leslie.
After the trial concluded, the Justice Glenn Parrett expressed criticisms concerning the manner in which defence counsel had conducted a pre-trial change-of-venue application. Legebokoff submitted that this amounted to a miscarriage of justice. His lawyer argued the judge had a duty to immediately disclose his views and that the delay in doing so created an appearance of unfairness.
On September 4, 2012, Legebokoff’s lawyer, James Heller, applied to have the trial moved from Prince George. His grounds for seeking the change of location were:
“(a) there had been extensive local media coverage in Prince George regarding Mr. Legebokoff’s alleged crimes and court appearances;“
(b) there had been stories on CNN and in Outside magazine to which the local media had alerted the community;“
(c) pre-trial publicity had linked Mr. Legebokoff to murders and disappearance along what has become known as the “Highway of Tears” [i.e., a portion of Highway 16 in Northern British Columbia along which a number of Aboriginal women have been murdered or have disappeared since the 1970s];“
(d) no suspect had been named in the Highway of Tears disappearances/murders, which had attracted significant media attention and aroused strong feelings of sympathy, fear and outrage, especially in Prince George and nearby communities;“
(e) media reports related to Mr. Legebokoff, and especially those linking him to the Highway of Tears, had been comparatively rare elsewhere in the province; and“
(f) the impact of the events surrounding the trial and the trial itself will have considerably more impact on Prince George than they would have on a larger urban centre and concerns, other than those related to a fair trial, might be at the centre of potential jurors’ minds due to the dynamics of a smaller community.”
On July 24, 2013, at a pre-trial hearing, Parrett denied the change of venue, even though he had not completed his written reasons.
“The outcome of the application will not change,” he said. “Mr. Heller, your application for a change of venue is dismissed. The portion of the reasons that I am struggling with relates to comments I will be making about the process of public opinion polls in such applications and that is taking longer than I anticipated, but I expect you will have the reasons shortly.”
When the written reasons were released, Parrett commented: “If there is a theme which emerges from (Heller’s application for a change of venue) it is a theme of exaggeration and distortion. I hesitate to add misrepresentation but the reality is that it is a word which best describes it,” and, “I accept that it is perhaps my failing in expecting more out of counsel who are, after all, officers of the court than this distorted, misleading, recasting of reality.”
Legebokoff launched the appeal saying there was “a miscarriage of justice relating to the content and the date of release of the reasons for the change of venue application; and there was a miscarriage of justice relating to a violation of the appellant’s right to be represented by counsel of choice.”
The Court of Appeal, in its written ruling, stated: “A well-informed reasonable person would know that: the trial judge was not under a duty to express his views earlier; the conduct in question occurred at an early stage of the proceedings; Mr. Legebokoff was competently represented throughout the trial; and there is no suggestion that the judge’s views affected the manner in which he conducted the trial.
“In light of these facts, I consider that a well-informed reasonable person’s confidence in the administration of justice would not be shaken by the trial judge’s delay in making his views known.”
Legebokoff did not allege any errors with respect to the conduct of the trial and conceded the evidence against him was overwhelming, according to the written appeal release Monday morning.
Legebokoff was sentenced to four concurrent terms of life imprisonment.
“These are not the actions of a simple killer,” Parrett said during sentencing, “but something infinitely worse … He [Legebokoff] should never be allowed to walk with us again.”
In the murder of Legebokoff’s first victim Jill Stuchenko, 35, Justice Glenn Parrett said while others were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner Oct. 10, 2009, Stuchenko was most likely dead or dying. Her body was found Oct. 26 in a shallow grave off Otway Road. Stuchenko had suffered massive blunt force injuries to her scalp, with cuts and multiple bruises to her forehead, both arms and knees. Her blood loss was “so extreme” that a pathologist in the case said he had a hard time getting a blood sample.
Natasha Montgomery, 23, likely died around August 31 or September 1, 2010. Her body has not been found. However, shorts worn by Legebokoff when he met with Loren Leslie on November 27, 2010 had areas of DNA matching Montgomery’s genetic profile. An axe found in a hallway closet at Legebokoff’s Liard Drive apartment yielded 14 matches to Montgomery, along with other bloodstains found on curtains, comforter in Legebokoff’s bedroom, cuttings from a carpet, box spring mattress and linoleum floor – all matches to Montgomery’s genetic profile.
Cynthia Maas, 35, died Sept. 10, 2010. She suffered blunt force trauma to her face and head, 16 impacts to her skull, fractured ribs and injuries to her vertebrae. Parrett noted her body had been left naked from the waist down. He described DNA evidence in her case including from bloodstains on a pickaroon found in Legebokoff’s bedroom and on black shoes seized from his Liard Drive apartment which yielded 25 matches to Maas. The judge found Maas was murdered and that the pickaroon or logging tool was “one of the tools” used in that murder.
Loren Donn Leslie
Loren Leslie, 15, was found dead, lying face down, having been dragged into the bush “in an apparent attempt to conceal or delay” finding her body, said Parrett. Her pants and underpants were pulled down around her feet – similar in manner to that of Maas. Leslie’s body was discovered around midnight Nov. 27, 2010 by a conservation officer near a logging road off Highway 27 (north of Vanderhoof).