VANCOUVER – A bright line slices through the popular narrative of the killings of six people in a 15th-floor condo near Vancouver six years ago.
On one side are the two innocent bystanders — 22-year-old building resident Chris Mohan and 55-year-old gas fitter Ed Schellenberg — who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And then there are the not-so-innocent ones: a group of four young men who the police and Crown say were linked to the drug trade, including a 21-year-old alleged trafficker named Corey Lal, who, prosecutors allege, was the intended target of the killing.
Details about the four, including their ties to drugs, have trickled out during the first week of the trial of three alleged gangsters charged in their murders. Three of them have been described as friends, while the fourth was an older brother. The youngest was 19; the oldest, 26.
Among them was Ryan Bartolomeo, a 19-year-old who lived with his mother in Surrey, frequently stayed home playing video games, and, according to a friend, was involved in selling drugs, the trial heard.
Katie Bott, who described herself as a close friend who spoke with Bartolomeo almost every day, said she knew Bartolomeo made his money in the drug trade. Shortly after the murders, she told police Bartolomeo was a drug runner.
“I had seen him with drugs and he put it in a duffel bag or a bag and he would drop it off,” Bott testified Thursday.
“Sometimes I would be with him when he put the drugs in his bag and he would leave and I would stay where I was. … I assumed he dropped it off,” she continued later.
Bott said she knew Bartolomeo for about seven years, first meeting in junior high, and they had stayed close ever since. She would see him four or five times a week, she said.
Bartolomeo had drug-related legal problems about a year before he died, said Bott, though she didn’t elaborate. Bartolomeo smoked pot, she said, but he didn’t do hard drugs.
Defence lawyer Simon Buck objected to Bott’s claims about Bartolomeo’s alleged involvement in the drug trade. Buck attempted to raise similar doubts earlier in the trial when Corey Lal’s sister and former girlfriend suggested he also had links to drugs.
Instead, Buck appeared skeptical that Bott really knew anything about Bartolomeo’s ties to drugs, noting that when she gave a statement to police in October 2007, she repeatedly said Bartolomeo never handled drugs in front of her.
On Thursday, Bott said she may have simply forgot about seeing Bartolomeo fill bags with drugs when she gave her police interview. She did tell police six years ago, however, that Bartolomeo was a drug runner, leaving for 12 hours at a time.
The Crown’s theory is that four of the men who died, especially Lal, were indeed involved in the drug trade. The Crown contends the Red Scorpions gang targeted Lal because he was a drug rival, and then executed five others to eliminate potential witnesses.
The victims were Lal, Bartolomeo, Lal’s 26-year-older brother Michael, Edward Narong, 22, Mohan and Schellenberg.
Matthew Johnston, Cory Haevischer and Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le are now on trial for various murder and conspiracy charges. A co-accused has already pleaded guilty and another, alleged gang leader Jamie Bacon, is scheduled for trial next year.
The Crown alleges Johnston, Haevischer and a third man, who can’t be named, were directly involved in the murders, while Le and Bacon were behind the conspiracy.
Prosecutors allege Le and Bacon were the leaders of the Red Scorpions.
Note to readers: A previous version indicated Bartolomeo’s sister also said he was involved with drugs.