Norman LaRue’s lawyer says he was shocked at Wednesday’s first-degree murder verdict, and that Justice Scott Brooker likely made a mistake.
“I think the judge got it wrong in terms of he should have taken first degree off the table,” defence lawyer Ray Dieno told reporters after the verdict was heard on Wednesday.
“The evidence on first degree was so scant that it was a clear error,” he said.
LaRue had been on trial for the 2008 killing of Ibex Valley resident Gordon Seybold. LaRue and his then-girlfriend Christina Asp are accused of attacking Seybold in his own cabin with a baseball bat, beating him to death and burning the house down with his still-warm body inside.
Asp was convicted of second-degree murder for her role in the killing at a trial last year. On Wednesday, LaRue was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
After LaRue’s verdict was heard, Brooker called the killing a “brutal and senseless murder.”
“You invaded the sanctity of Mr. Seybold’s home and then killed him,” Brooker said.
The day his client took the stand, Dieno made an appeal to have first-degree murder removed from the possible verdicts that the jury could find, arguing that there was not enough physical evidence to prove that LaRue planned the murder and was deliberate in carrying it out.
Justice Brooker disagreed but that decision could become part of an appeal that Dieno said he plans to file.
That wasn’t the only application Dieno made. He also asked to have the case declared a mistrial after the Crown prosecutor Bonnie Macdonald accidentally let a small piece of information about LaRue’s criminal past reach the jury.
Before the trial began, Brooker had ruled that any “bad character evidence” about LaRue’s criminal past, including his gang affiliations in prison, must be withheld from the jury because it might unfairly bias them.
On one of many tapes played for the jury, LaRue was heard talking to undercover police officers who he believed were powerful criminals that were offering him a job. The jury had been given a transcript of the recording to follow as it played, but at one point there was a mismatch between the words printed and the words they heard on the tape.
The written words referred to a time when LaRue was “ganged up.”
Dieno immediately objected, saying the inclusion of even one piece of inadmissible evidence was “outrageous.”
Both Dieno and the judge also had copies of the problematic transcript, and nobody caught the error.
Crown prosecutor David McWhinnie admitted that a mistake had been made, but argued that it was small enough that it could be corrected without prejudicing the jury.
“We are nowhere near mistrial territory,” McWhinnie said.
But Dieno wasn’t satisfied with simply correcting the transcript.
“Whether they put one piece or 20 pieces, it’s still in contravention to your order. It’s not up to defence to run the Crown’s case,” he said.
In the end, the jury was given new transcripts with the gang-related reference taken out, and the trial proceeded.
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