But for Eileen Mohan — whose son Christopher was among two innocent bystanders also killed in a highrise condo in Surrey on Oct. 19, 2007 — it's a meaningless distinction.
Mohan counts Le among the people responsible for her son's death, and she told him so during an emotional sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
"You stole my son's life right from the doorstep of our home," Mohan said as she read from a victim impact statement.
"The blood that you spilled out of my son was my blood. The lifeless body you left behind was my flesh. The spirit of Christopher that was taken was my spirit."
Quang Vinh Thang (Michael) Le, 28, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit murder, making him the second person to admit involvement in one of British Columbia's most notorious incidents of gang violence.
He was sentenced to 12 years, which was reduced to three years and one month after he received credit for time served. He was also accused of first-degree murder, but that charge was dropped as a result of his plea.
Le had been standing trial since late September along with Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer, whose murder trial is continuing. Johnston and Haevischer each face six counts of first-degree murder, as well as one count each of conspiracy.
Le was a founder and leader of the Red Scorpions, a violent gang that ran dial-a-dope drug trafficking operations throughout the Lower Mainland, court heard.
An agreed statement of facts submitted as part of Le's sentencing said the killing began as an execution of a rival drug trafficker named Corey Lal.
Another five victims — including Mohan, the 22-year-old who lived across the hall from where the murders took place; and 55-year-old fireplace repairman Ed Schellenberg — were also killed to eliminate potential witnesses, court heard.
The agreed statement of facts said another Red Scorpions leader, Jamie Bacon, who has yet to stand trial, came to Le in September 2007 with a plan to kill Lal, who had failed to pay a $100,000 "tax" to the gang.
Initially, Le suggested they rob Lal instead, but later he agreed to the plan, according to the statement of facts, eventually telling Bacon: "Do whatever you want ... whatever you need to do."
Le and Bacon sent Johnston, Haevischer and a third man, who has been referred to at the trial only as Person X, to carry out the killing at the Balmoral Towers condominium complex, according to the statement of facts. Le knew another resident of the building, who provided a key fob that allowed the killers to gain access, the statement said.
When it was over, Le was "shocked" to learn six people had been killed, according to the statement of facts. The victims included Le's longtime friend, 22-year-old Edward Narong.
"Le was originally opposed to the idea of killing Mr. Lal, but ultimately he acceded to the idea," Crown counsel Peter Juk told the court.
"He likely could not have envisioned the end result."
Jourdane Lal, who lost her brothers Corey and Michael, told the hearing that she is still haunted by the look on her mother's face when she learned of the killings. She said the family's horror was multiplied two months ago when they sat in court and saw bloody crime scene photos.
"My life during this past 74 months has been a series of painfully dreadful days, sleepless nights and defeated times," Lal told the court through tears.
"I can only describe it as a living nightmare."
Le occasionally turned his gaze toward the floor as he listened to the victim impact statements.
He then addressed the court himself, insisting if he could "turn back the hand of time," he never would have started the Red Scorpions and set out on a life of crime.
"I sincerely apologize to all the victims and to the members of the families for the pain and suffering of my actions," Le said in a low voice.
"I know I do not deserve ... their forgiveness. However, I truly hope that one day in the future, they would find it in their heart to forgive."
Several people stormed out of the courtroom as Le read his apology.
Outside court, when asked if she accepts Le's apology, Eileen Mohan paused before simply saying: "I'll reserve judgment."
The man known only as Person X pleaded guilty in 2009, while Bacon is expected to stand trial next year.
None of the allegations against Johnston, Haevischer and Bacon have been proven in court.
The agreed statement of facts presented Tuesday said Johnston, Haevischer and Person X went to the Balmoral Towers condominium complex in Surrey, where Lal rented a "stash house" for drugs and money.
Lal was in the condo, but he wasn't alone.
The statement alleges the killers also encountered another three people with links to the drug trade — Lal's brother Michael, Edward Narong and Ryan Bartolomeo — along with Schellenberg, who was servicing the unit's gas fireplace. Mohan at some point he was dragged into the condo, as well.
Hoods were placed over their heads and all six were shot in the heads, necks and backs. The statement of facts says Haevischer and Person X each shot three people.
Le was formally charged in May 2009, but by then he had fled to his native Vietnam.
He was arrested the following month in Manila. Within two weeks, he was back in Canada.
Le, a Canadian citizen, was born in Vietnam and raised by an aunt until he was nine years old. At that point, he moved to Canada to live with his parents.
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