VANCOUVER - In the dark hours of May 31, 2005, enforcers for the notorious Greeks gang lured a man onto a quiet road on the outskirts of Vernon, B.C. and shot him dead.
They believed he was a police informant, and so left his body in the middle of the street to send a message.
They were mistaken, court heard Thursday
But the brazen display cast out the challenge they could murder with impunity — not only to other members of the seedy North Okanagan drug world, but to police.
As he pronounced life sentences for two of the killers on Thursday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge commended the RCMP, who launched a massive investigation that eventually led to the convictions of five men in three drug-related killings.
"In my view, citizens of this province can take pride with how that challenge was responded to," Justice Bill Smart said from the bench.
"Despite the wall of silence that usually protects those involved in criminal gangs, the police were able to gather sufficient evidence by May 2006 to arrest and charge the senior members of the Greeks — and, effectively, shut down the gang's operations."
Dale Sipes and Leslie Podolski were handed mandatory sentences of life imprisonment with no parole eligibility for 25 years on Thursday for their hand in the deaths of Ronald Thom and another man, David Marniuk.
Sipes was convicted of first-degree murder in both deaths, while Podolski was implicated on the first-degree charge in only Marniuk's demise. Sipes is to serve his two life sentences at the same time.
Their convictions came alongside convictions for charges ranging from first-degree murder to manslaughter for Greeks' leader Peter Manolakos, member Sheldon O'Donnell and associate Douglas Brownell for killings that were carried out in 2004 and 2005.
Sentencing for those three was adjourned until a date is set next week.
Outside court, one of Sipes' lawyers said he's already begun drafting an appeal of his client's convictions based on disagreements with some of the judge's rulings around evidence and issues with the judge's charge to the jury.
"It's not a question of criticizing the trial judge," Matthew Nathanson told reporters. "But it's a question of ensuring that the Court of Appeal looks at those issues and makes sure that the accused had a fair trial."
In delivering Thursday's sentences, Smart reviewed some of the key facts of the deaths.
Thom's "cold-blooded execution" was ordered by gang leader Manolakos, and carried out by his enforcers. The man had no way of defending himself, and even as he lay dying in the street, Sipes took it upon himself to shoot the man twice more in the face.
Sipes and Podolski then went to a home, changed their clothes and dropped off their guns. At one point, Sipes stood in a doorway, eating a box of Glosette peanuts.
Marniuk was a first-aid worker who was murdered in July 2004.
He had a serious drug addiction, and he paid for his fix by selling drugs for the Greeks with a dial-a-dope operation.
However, he "violated the most important rule" when he used the product without paying for it, and letting the line go down.
He was brought back to the Greeks' clubhouse for punishment, where he was duct-taped to a chair and beaten.
Sipes and Podolski "had their way" with the man, torturing him in a "brutal and sadistic" manner with items including a hammer and blow torch, until he died. The pair and other members of the group then took the body to remote hills in Enderby, B.C. and cremated it.
"(A) final act of callousness that left Mr. Marniuk's family without a trace of his existence," Smart said.
A Crown lawyer read part of a victim impact statement to the court, quoting Marniuk's sister: "I feel sick when I think about the pain my brother must have endured," he read.
In addition to their life sentences, the judge ordered DNA samples be taken. Both will be prohibited from possessing restricted weapons upon release.
The trial began in May 2011 and jurors spent 12 days deliberating the verdicts. More than 25 lawyers and 100 Crown witnesses were called.
Manolakos was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and one count of manslaughter, while O'Donnell will be sentenced on one first-degree count and two of second degree.
Brownell, who was identified during the trial has having a drug-trafficking relationship with the Greeks, has been convicted of two counts of manslaughter.
The third murder victim is Thomas Bryce.
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