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Baptiste murder trial begins in Vancouver

Two men accused of a brutal murder in Sechelt incriminated themselves after a six-month $60,000 police undercover "sting" operation, it was alleged in court on Friday.

Two men accused of a brutal murder in Sechelt incriminated themselves after a six-month $60,000 police undercover "sting" operation, it was alleged in court on Friday.

Eric Henderson, 31, and Jason Donald Richer, 24, both of Abbotsford, are accused of the beating death of Mark Jeffrey Baptiste, known to his friends as "Chico." Their second-degree murder trial started in Vancouver Supreme Court Monday, March 15, and is expected to run for the next two weeks. Forty-year-old Baptiste was found lying in a pool of blood on the pavement in front of the Malaspina bus station, at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2002. He suffered severe head injuries in the brutal attack, and died in the neurological unit at Victoria General Hospital on Jan. 22, 2002.

Const. Ryan James Wood, giving evidence Friday, became lead investigator in Operation Excurrent, which commenced immediately after the attack with eyewitness statements taken.

Under cross-examination, he confirmed that two witnesses, who were "known to police," indicated Henderson and Richer in the attack, but he wished to obtain "further evidence that did not rely solely on their testimony."

In March 2002, Sunshine Coast RCMP and the South West Major Crimes Unit came together to launch an undercover operation, which ultimately cost $60,000. The purpose of this was to lead the two suspects into either incriminating or exonerating themselves, stated Wood.

An undercover officer was assigned to befriend Henderson, involving him in a succession of staged criminal activities to build up trust. The police "cover man" who oversaw the undercover cop gave evidence Friday, explaining how such a "Mr. Big" operation worked. A publication ban was ordered preventing identification of the undercover officer, but he is an RCMP member with 14 years' experience who, at the time, was posted to the major crimes unit.

"The first [phase] is when the main undercover operator meets the target, in this case Eric Henderson, through a planned meet, and builds a bond of trust over time," he said. "He purports to be a member of a criminal organization. "There's a second stage where police pressure is put on the target to generate conversation between him and the undercover operator.

"The third stage of the scheme is when the crime boss of this purported organization interviews the target about the investigation - in this case, the murder of Mr. Baptiste."

He stated the undercover officer rented a house on the same street as Henderson and asked for help moving in. He then involved the suspect in a succession of criminal scenarios of increasing seriousness, involving "moving a duffel bag from point A to point B and handling credit cards that were supposed to be stolen or counterfeit." Then, on Sept. 10, 2002, Wood visited Henderson. He identified himself as a police officer, said Henderson was a murder suspect and asked for an alibi.

After this, police sprung the "sting," with their Mr. Big character allegedly talking to Henderson and Richer on Sept. 13 and the following day, while Const. Wood and additional officers recorded conversations in an unmarked police van.

The two were arrested on Sept. 24, 2002, outside the house rented by the undercover cop, who had called them over for a meeting.

Information about the alleged confessions had not been made before Coast Reporter went to press, and Henderson and Richer's defence lawyer, David Gable, has yet to commence his presentation.

At the time of the initial police investigation, it was alleged that Baptiste was a drug user who had been found near a known drug house. His cousin, Carlene Joe, subsequently established a trust fund in his memory to help recovering addicts on the Sunshine Coast. She was quoted in Coast Reporter Sept. 30, 2002, saying that Chico was a cocaine addict who "wanted to get clean, but he didn't know where to start."

She stated that he acted as the middleman in drug deals for the people who ran the crack house, and she believed he was beaten to death after some kind of deal went wrong.