Norman LaRue is appealing his first-degree murder conviction, and seeking either a new trial or an outright acquittal.
Documents filed in Yukon Supreme Court on Aug. 2 show that LaRue is disputing that his right to a fair trial was upheld, saying that the jury was likely biased and there was not enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder.
LaRue was convicted in July in the murder of Ibex Valley resident and small-time pot dealer Gordon Seybold. In 2008, LaRue broke into Seybold’s cabin and, with the help of his then-girlfriend, Christina Asp, beat Seybold to death with a baseball bat before burning the cabin down with Seybold’s still-warm body inside.
Asp and LaRue were both snared in an RCMP undercover sting operation called Project Monsoon that convinced Asp she was being recruited into a powerful criminal organization that could make evidence of the crime go away.
The two were set to be tried together, but ultimately wound up with separate trials.
Asp was convicted last year for her role in the killing. Her trial garnered widespread media attention in Whitehorse and across the country. Before LaRue went to trial this spring, his lawyer, Ray Dieno, argued that given all the press coverage, it would be impossible for LaRue to get an unbiased jury in Whitehorse, and applied to have the case heard Outside.
“I was obviously extremely disappointed that the change of venue wasn’t granted,” Dieno said Tuesday from Vancouver, where his practice is located.
“That’s the major problem I have. I don’t think that any jury in Whitehorse could have not been biased and influenced by the massive publication of the previous trial. That was borne out by how quickly the jury came back with their decision,” he said.
Christina Asp was set to testify in LaRue’s trial, but she refused at the last minute and was found in contempt of court. Justice Scott Brooker took the unusual step of allowing the prosecution to play the tapes of Asp’s testimony from her own trial instead. LaRue claims this was another mistake that unfairly biased his trial because Dieno didn’t get a chance to cross-examine Asp on the stand himself.
The jury in LaRue’s trial heard tapes of him bragging about the killing to undercover police who he thought were hit men offering him a job.
When he took the stand in his own defence, LaRue testified that he hadn’t been anywhere near Seybold’s cabin, knew nothing of the killing, and only told the police what Asp had wanted him to because he was afraid for his life. Because there was no physical evidence of planning or deliberation, Dieno tried unsuccessfully to have the judge remove first-degree murder as an option for the jury.
Dieno said that the legal services society still has to review the application and decide if it will fund it.
“They have lawyers that will review it all, and decide whether there is a bona fide chance of the appeal being successful. Then they’ll decide whether to fund it, and there will be some preparation in terms of filing factums, etc.,” he said.
Assuming that goes ahead, it will likely be almost two years before the appeal court hears the case. If the appeal is accepted, LaRue could be offered a new trial, or have the conviction set aside.
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