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LaRue guilty, jury concludes

Norman LaRue has been found guilty of first-degree murder. The verdict comes with an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for 25 years. The jury’s decision came down late Wednesday morning, ending a three-month trial that saw a number of surprising turns and delays.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Norman LaRue was convicted in 1989 of second-degree murder of a Kamloops resident, and that this conviction was subsequently overturned and the charges were stayed. The RCMP have since informed us that Larue's father was the subject of these allegations. We're sorry about the mistake.

Norman LaRue has been found guilty of first-degree murder. The verdict comes with an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The jury’s decision came down late Wednesday morning, ending a three-month trial that saw a number of surprising turns and delays.

Yukon Supreme Court Judge Scott Brooker gave his final instructions to the jury on Tuesday. He reviewed the evidence in the case and explained the four basic questions they must answer for themselves in order to reach a verdict on whether LaRue killed Ibex Valley resident Gordon Seybold in 2008.

“I am the judge of law in this case, but you are the judges of fact,” Brooker said.

LaRue was accused of breaking into Seybold’s cabin and, with the help of his then-girlfriend Christina Asp, beating 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.

Asp was convicted last year for her role in the killing. 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.

That, Brooker said, leads to the first question the jury must answer: Do they believe that LaRue was at Seybold’s cabin the night of the small-time pot-dealer’s death?

“If you are not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Norman LaRue was at Gordon Seybold’s residence on or about March 26, 2008 ... then your verdict must be not guilty,” Brooker said.

Even if the jury believes LaRue was at the cabin that night, he could still have been found not guilty if the jury decided there wasn’t enough proof to support the allegation that he hit Seybold with a bat, slit the man’s throat or burned the cabin down. If he did do any of these things, and the jury was satisfied that those criminal acts were meant to cause Seybold bodily harm, then LaRue would be guilty of at least manslaughter.

But in order to reach a verdict of first-degree murder, which LaRue stood accused of, Brooker told the jury they must decide that the killing was both planned and deliberate.

And that would be the most difficult thing for the Crown to prove. The evidence pointing to LaRue’s alleged planning of the killing was almost entirely from witnesses who the jury knows to have lied at some point, either in the trial or in the RCMP tape-recorded conversations. The only piece of physical evidence put forward by the Crown to support its claim that LaRue planned to kill Seybold is a hand-drawn map of the Seybold property found at the cabin LaRue and Asp were living in at the time of the killing.

The trial took a number of unexpected turns. First was the defence’s application to have the trial heard in another jurisdiction. LaRue’s lawyer Ray Dieno argued that given the Yukon’s size and the publicity that Christina Asp’s trial received last year, it would be impossible to find enough unbiased jurors for a fair trial. That application was turned down because, according to Canadian law, murder trials must be heard in the jurisdiction where the killing took place.

Then there were a number of sick jurors, and a broken air-conditioning system in the courthouse didn’t help the situation. The trial had to take repeated breaks and lost days, eventually resulting in two jurors being dismissed for medical reasons.

Mr. Dieno himself had to take a week off from the trial after his doctor ordered him not to fly from his home in Vancouver because of a medical condition.

Then there was Christina Asp, who at the last minute refused to testify in the case. The Crown had been planning on calling her as a witness, but she refused to leave her cell and was found in contempt of court.

To make up for it, Brooker took a rare decision and allowed the Crown to play tapes of Asp’s testimony from her own trial instead. That almost never happens in murder trials, because it is technically hearsay evidence and the defence has no opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Brooker repeatedly cautioned the jury to watch for contradictions in Asp’s testimony.

In 2003 LaRue was convicted of aggravated sexual assault for holding a knife to his victim’s throat while he tried to rape her. When she resisted, he slashed her throat before she was able to get free and call for help. She survived, and it was that crime that LaRue had been on parole for when he and Asp went on the lam in 2008 and came to Whitehorse.

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