No wonder prosecutors are so hesitant to speak to reporters. In January, just minutes after two men pleaded guilty to manslaughter for their roles in the 2005 murders of four RCMP officers in Alberta, the province’s chief Crown Attorney, Orest Yereniuk, explained to a scrum of TV cameras why the prosecution offered a plea bargain rather than pursue the original charges of first-degree murder. “The decision was made in this case, after a full and careful review that there wasn’t a reasonable likelihood of conviction for first-degree murder,” he said. His comments could now backfire on the Crown. The two accused, Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman, have filed an appeal, claiming that although they are innocent, they only pleaded guilty to manslaughter because they feared the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction and much lengthier jail terms. Steve Penney, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the defendants may have a legitimate case. Crown Attorneys are supposed to act in good faith, and if they don’t believe the evidence warrants a first-degree murder charge, they are supposed to alter the charge. “It would be unfair to accept a plea agreement where the accused were basically presented with a situation where the Crown was bluffing,” Penney explained. The Crown has yet to weigh in on the appeal. But when they do, it will likely be in the courtroom, not on national television.
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