A Yukon man who was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in beating another man to death with a baseball bat before burning his Ibex Valley cabin down over a drug-related dispute in 2008 has had his appeal dismissed.
In a 42-page written decision June 13, Yukon Court of Appeal Justice Gail Dickson, seconded by Justice Louise Charbonneau, found that the judge in Norman Larue’s trial did not make any legal errors that compromised the fairness of the trial and outcome.
The third judge on the case, Justice Elizabeth Bennett, disagreed and wrote that she would allow the appeal and order a new trial. She was ultimately overruled.
A jury found Larue guilty of first-degree murder in 2013 for his role in the murder of Gordon Seybold, who ran a marijuana grow-op and got into a dispute with the mother of Larue’s co-accused, Christina Asp. During a confrontation at Seybold’s cabin in March 2008, Larue and Asp beat him to death with a baseball bat, burned down the cabin with Seybold’s body inside and then disposed of the bat at a rest area.
At the core of Larue’s appeal was whether the trial judge should have allowed the Crown to enter recordings of incriminating statements made by Asp as evidence.
Investigators secretly recorded Asp’s statements in the course of a “Mr. Big” operation, during which undercover officers created a fake criminal organization which they “recruited” Asp into. Convinced the organization was real, Asp told undercover officers about Seybold’s murder and her and Larue’s roles in it.
Asp was tried separately and ultimately convicted of second-degree murder for Seybold’s death. She refused to testify at Larue’s trial.
In her decision, Dickson wrote that the trial judge had adequately considered and warned jurors about the circumstances under which investigators had obtained Asp’s statements and Asp’s motives while giving the statements.
The trial judge also correctly determined that there was adequate corroborating evidence to decide that, on a balance of probabilities, Asp was being truthful in her statements, Dickson found. That evidence included that Larue’s own statements to undercover officers contained details similar to Asp’s and the fact that both Larue and Seybold’s DNA were found on the baseball bat.
Dickson also found that Larue’s other grounds of appeal were without merit. These included that the trial judge wrongly dismissed an application for a mistrial and that there was no evidence to support a first-degree murder charge.
Bennet disagreed, writing that the trial judge had not fully and properly explored other possible motives Asp may have had when giving her statements — for example, that she could have been lying and implicating Larue in an attempt to cover up her own conduct. Bennett also found that “none of the evidence relied on by the trial judge was properly corroborative” in determining whether Asp was being truthful.
Charbonneau agreed with Dickson’s reasonings, ultimately resulting in Larue’s appeal being dismissed.
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