The Crown is trying to prove that a man who confessed to a Saskatoon murder, but implicated three other men of being involved, was telling the truth when he unknowingly told an undercover police officer the details of an alleged contract killing.
That man, Neil Lee Yakimchuk, said he shot Isho Hana during a chase on Preston Avenue South on April 15, 2004. He also said a close friend ordered the hit, a man he’d never met paid him and another childhood friend took part.
Those three men are Jonathan Kenneth Dombowsky, Long Nam Luu and Kenneth Jacob Tingle, Crown prosecutor Micheal Segu told the court during Wednesday’s closing arguments in the 11-year-old case. The men are on trial for first-degree murder.
Yakimchuk was convicted of the same charge in a separate trial in 2014. His incriminating statements were made during an undercover police sting in 2011 — seven years after the murder — dubbed Operation Copperhead Road. It was initiated as part of an investigation into an Alberta murder, but Yakimchuk ended up telling officers about the Saskatoon murder as well.
He said he went to the hospital in March 2004 to visit Dombowsky, who offered to pay him $45,000 to kill Hana, a rival drug boss. Yakimchuk said an Asian man named “Jesse” paid him half upfront, but the murder didn’t go through that day, so he returned to Saskatoon the next month and picked up his friend.
The two men tracked Hana down at a home on Preston Avenue and lured him outside, but both their guns jammed, Yakimchuk told the undercover officer. He said he then chased Hana down the street and shot him in the back and head.
Yakimchuk said he was paid the rest of his money and shared some of it with his partner.
Segu argued evidence provided throughout the trial points to “Jesse” being Luu and Yakimchuk’s partner being Tingle. The Crown’s theory is that Dombowsky and Luu were involved in drug trafficking and wanted Hana killed because they were having issues with him and his crew. Dombowsky had been attacked and Luu’s wife had been shot at through the front door of her home.
Segu said the plot involved planning and deliberation, the necessary requirements for first-degree murder.
How credible is Yakimchuk?
The defence tried to rip Yakimchuk’s credibility apart during their closing arguments. Lawyers for the three accused men called him a “self-proclaimed liar” who shouldn’t be believed.
Admitting that some of Yakimchuk’s statements were inconsistent, Segu argued the falsities were never about the who, how or why. He also said Yakimchuk had every reason to lie at the preliminary hearing because he was facing two first-degree murder charges.
But he wasn’t facing any charges when he was speaking to undercover police, and therefore had no motivation to lie about the contract killing, Segu said. He questioned why Yakimchuk would make up a story about a bungled shooting with a complicated back-story, and implicate his friends for no reason, if his goal was to impress the officer posing as the boss of a fake criminal organization.
“It seems that Yakimchuk’s statements could either be ‘garbage or gold’,” Justice Richard Danyliuk pointed out.
Segu went on to describe more statements Yakimchuk made that were verified by other evidence. He knew that “Jesse’s” wife had been shot but not killed. Noel Harder, a convicted drug dealer-turned-police informant, testified that Luu went by the name “Jesse” and had sold him cocaine. Luu’s wife had also been shot, furthering the Crown’s theory that Luu and “Jesse” are the same person.
According to the Crown, Yakimchuk was also telling the truth when he said Hana, Dombowsky and “Jesse” were involved in the drug trade. Hana was a convicted trafficker, Dombowsky was up on drug charges a month after the murder and Harder confirmed Luu was a known drug dealer.
The defence argued there was no evidence of a second gun at the crime scene, but Segu asked why Yakimchuk would lie about a gun that didn’t fire. The story about the guns jamming also makes sense because something caused Hana to run into the middle of the street where several witnesses saw him, Segu said.
The most reliable witness was a woman who was “the only one going at a slow pace,” he said. She observed two men wearing masks chasing another man onto the meridian while she was out for a walk. The path she described and the clothing they were wearing also matched other witnesses’ evidence.
Rev. Harrison was driving in the area earlier that night and reported seeing two “strangers to the neighbourhood” dressed in black. One of his descriptions loosely matched Tingle. Segu said they were scoping out the area hours before the shooting.
Segu then brought up Tingle’s interview with police, when he told Staff Sgt. Randy Huisman that he was with Yakimchuk on Preston Avenue in a red rental car the night of the murder. Tingle said he was urinating in an alley and did not see Hana get shot or who the shooter was, but later said he told his girlfriend “I just witnessed Neil killing someone.”
In the interview with Huisman, Tingle also said Yakimchuk told him he could have gotten some of the money if he had stuck around. That’s because he was participating in the murder, Segu said. He questioned why Yakimchuk would go out of his way to bring a friend he hadn’t seen in 12 years to just “witness” a murder.
Although Yakimchuk may have gotten some details wrong with the passage of time, Segu said a person wouldn’t forget who they killed someone with, or the fact that they got paid a large amount of money. The Crown argued those elements were consistent throughout Yakimchuk’s statements.
Segu said Noel Harder’s testimony about hearing Dombowsky and Luu were involved in putting a $25,000 hit on Hana should also be considered credible. Harder was able to accurately confirm that Dombowsky and Luu were on bad terms with Hana, who was targeting Luu, and that Dombowsky and Hana had residences across the street from each other.
“Harder has no horse in this race,” Segu told the court. He said Harder was not connected to the offence, had no “axe to grind” with the accused and did not have to testify at the trial as part of his duties as a police informant in the Project Forseti drug busts.
Justice Richard Danyliuk has reserved his verdict until June 21.