Gang leader's appeal denied
A judge showed no bias when questioning a Kamloops gang leader about his tattoos, the province's highest court has ruled.
Jayme Russell appealed his Jan. 20, 2009, conviction for trafficking cocaine on the grounds that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Powers was biased when he asked him about his "Independent Soldier" tattoos at trial.
The 29-year-old's conviction followed a two-day trial, at which a pair of undercover police officers testified they had met with Russell and associate Thomas Crawford at a Sahali restaurant to work out a deal for cocaine and guns.
Russell has previously been identified by Kamloops Mounties as the leader of the local chapter of the Independent Soldiers street gang. Crawford was at one time believed to have been his second in command.
At trial, court heard Russell agreed arranged a deal with the undercover cops for three kilograms of cocaine, 50 handguns and three machine guns.
The two undercover Mounties were the Crown's only witnesses. Russell took the stand in his own defence.
Under questioning from Crown prosecutor Anthony Varesi, Russell admitted he was a member of the Independent Soldiers, but claimed the group — which has been identified by police as a criminal organization — wasn't a gang.
"What do they [the Independent Soldiers] do?" Varesi asked.
"I wouldn't say they do anything," Russell replied. "It's just a group people join."
"Well, if you join an ice hockey team, you want to play ice hockey," Varesi said. "If you join a gym, you want to exercise. What's the reason you join this group?"
"It just seemed like the right thing to do," Russell said, denying knowledge of any link between the Independent Soldiers and the drug trade.
That cross-examination was followed by questioning from Powers, in which the judge asked Russell whether his forearm tattoos — which read "Independent Soldier" — are part of his membership with the organization.
"And you say that's not part of the signature or the joining?" the judge asked.
"No, yeah, no, it's not," Russell replied. "It's — it's not a, it's not required."
"Not required, but it's something members do?" Powers responded.
"I did," Russell replied.
Russell claimed Powers' queries "overstepped the bounds of permissible questioning."
However, a three-judge panel from the B.C. Court of Appeal dismissed his argument, saying Powers' questions were asked "in a respectful, neutral tone and were limited to a specific collateral topic.
"They were not laced with the kind of excess or sarcasm that have been found in other cases to amount to the appearance of an unfair trial or the impression of bias," Appeal Court Justice Pamela Kirkpatrick said in a written decision.
Russell was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary for his actions with the undercover investigators.
He was later handed another five-year jail term following a subsequent RCMP investigation.
Russell had no criminal record prior to the conviction in January 2009, but has faced two serious charges in recent years.
In February 2008, he was acquitted on an aggravated assault charge after a number of witnesses refused to testify against him.
Three months later, he had attempted murder charges stayed after his alleged victim, another man believed to be involved with gangs, claimed to have no idea what had happened — despite testimony from police witnesses stating otherwise.
Russell applied for, and was denied, early parole last summer.
At the time of the decision, the National Parole Board said Russell was continuing to associate with criminal organizations both in jail and in the community.