On January 31, 2009, Aboriginal Mad Cow street gang members Dennis Baptiste (23) and Jessie Henderson (23) were brutally murdered inside a suite at 729 Maryland Street in Winnipeg. The murders of these young men represented the 5th and 6th killings that occurred in the month of January that year.
(It also happened to be the second gang related murder after Aboriginal “Bloods” street gang member Shawn Beauchamp (26) was gunned down in the North end on January 11.)
In the world of Homicide investigation, gang related murders rank as some of the most difficult cases to crack. People involved in the gang culture know that talking to Police can be a very dangerous proposition. That’s because part of the gang member experience requires participants to immerse themselves in heavy doses of anti informant propaganda. Informants represent one of the greatest threats to organized crime and street gangs. There’s no secret regarding the fate that awaits informants, rats or snitches.
Gang retaliation, death threats and witness intimidation are prevalent in almost every gang related Homicide. Homicide investigators have had to become highly skilled in the fine art of witness interrogation and conversion. Converting a gang member or associate to a Crown witness is equivalent to convincing them to “change teams.” Extricating witnesses from the gangster lifestyle and culture is an extremely complex and difficult task. Gang members and their associates often come from generations of hard-core street thugs that might include members of their immediate or extended family.
The Baptiste and Henderson murders presented many of these challenges and more.
Police investigators pursued every lead in the case, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. With relentless determination investigators interviewed anyone and everyone who might help them put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. That determination led to the interview of two (2) witnesses who would provide key evidence implicating an elusive killer. Phillip Asham and Russell Glow painted a picture for Police that identified a ruthless killer investigators would come to know as Kenneth Toby Roulette (25).
The investigation couldn’t stop there.
Experienced Homicide investigators knew the evidence of Asham & Glow would be vigorously challenged at trial. As participants in the illicit drug subculture, living life in the underbelly of main stream society, Asham & Glow were sure to be subjected to a precision-like character assassination by skilled defense attorneys. Their evidence had to be supported.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, dedicated members of the WPS Forensic Identification Unit continued to do their meticulous work trying to find evidence to link a suspected killer to the crime scene. That hard work and determination would pay dividends when a forensic connection to Roulette was made. Not only did Roulette leave a his calling card at the crime scene in the form of his DNA, he also left what Crown Prosecutor Keith Eyrikson would later call a “The forensic equivalent of a trail of bread crumbs from Mr Roulettes crime to Mr Glow’s house.”
It was the evidence Police needed to sell the case to Manitoba Justice Prosecutors who would authorize charges against Roulette. The hunt for a killer was on.
On March 3 2010, Roulette was arrested in Calgary, Alberta and transported to the City of Winnipeg where he was formally charged with two (2) counts of First Degree Murder.
In a hotly contested trial, the anticipated character assassinations were made by a Defense team desperate to spare their client from a life sentence in a Federal Penitentiary. “If two liars tell the same story, that isn’t proof what they are saying is true,” defense counsel Greg Brodsky suggested to the jury during his closing remarks. “Would you buy a car from Russell Glow,” Brodsky asked.
Unfortunately for Roulette, the jurors were not in the market for buying Mr Brodsky’s defense and took a mere 4.5 hours to convict Roulette of both counts of First Degree Murder. The unrepentant killer declined the Judges offer to speak and was promptly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for twenty-five (25) years. He will be eligible for release on or about March 13, 2035.
After catching the verdict via Winnipeg Free Press reporter James Turners tweets from the Court Room, I immediately forwarded the result via text message to former veteran WPS Homicide Sergeant Ken Shipley (retired), the man who supervised and directed the investigation.
In typical Shipley style he quickly deflected credit for the exceptional result; “That investigation was borne on the back of good old-fashioned Policing with dedicated investigators chasing down the information necessary for a successful prosecution. The resultant conviction was testimony to their good work.”
It’s so true, these cases don’t solve themselves.
It takes great dedication, commitment and effort to resolve these horrific gang related murders. It also takes the same kind of effort from the Prosecutors who are burdened with the onerous task of connecting the dots and presenting the case in a court of law. Their skill and resolve was essential in securing the outstanding result in this case.
While I reflect on the case I can’t help but think of an article I read called “Murder Most Foul and We Don’t Care.” The story was written by crime reporter James Turner who followed the Baptiste & Henderson case to its conclusion. It was a thought-provoking piece that asked questions about the publics apathetic response to these killings. Turner suggests that certain segments of our society seem to suffer from “A shocking and profound inability to empathize very much any more.”
He goes on to ask the bigger question.
“If it had been two 23-year-old white kids from Charleswood or St Vital who were killed in this fashion, what would the interest be then?
A powerful question.
The question of race is one that is not unfamiliar to WPS Homicide Investigators. Any time the murder of an Aboriginal person goes unsolved for any length of time the usual accusations surface; “The Police don’t give a shit when an Indian gets murdered in Winnipeg.” The epidemic of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women only add fuel to this fire. These accusation always irked me when I was employed by the Winnipeg Police Service and was one of the reasons I agreed to do an on camera interview with APTN investigative reporter Kathleen Martens who was doing a piece on Missing & Murdered Aboriginal Women.
“If the Police don’t care when Aboriginal people get murdered, how do you explain the fact we solve so many cases where Aboriginal people are killed,” I asked Ms Martens.
The fact is, the WPS Homicide Unit has a solvency rate of almost 90% over the last fifteen (15) year period. Aboriginal people are represented in significant numbers of resolved cases during that period.
The truth is, while elements of racism may exist in our society, race or elements of racism are non-contributing factors in Homicide Investigations conducted by the Winnipeg Police Service. WPS Homicide investigators operate with the steadfast principle that no one has the right to take another human beings life in the absence of some form of lawful justification. Investigators are simply not influenced by a victims race, sex, religion or their participation in crime, drug trafficking, organized crime or street gangs.
If that wasn’t true, the killings of Aboriginal street gang members like Baptiste & Henderson would surely never be solved.
It’s time for Aboriginal people to put this tired myth to bed.
Meanwhile, back in Murder City….
The murder of Aboriginal “Bloods” street gang member Shawn Beauchamp on January 11, 2009 was also solved. Rival Indian Posse gang member Joseph Head (23) was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to serve a minimum of twelve (12) years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.