The Hells Angels, despite massive evidence to the contrary, have always denied they're a criminal organization. Just a club of avid motorcycle enthusiasts, they say.
They even have an international web site, copyrights to protect their name and skull logo, and spokesmen who field reporters' challenges with talking points that would do a professional political spin doctor proud.
And when members do run afoul of the law, the club is usually quick to distance itself from whatever wrongdoing was involved. With the notable exception of Quebec, such instances are rare because much of the alleged dirty work is left to associates who haven't been fully initiated into the gang.
The sentencing Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court of two full-patch members of the Hells Angels on manslaughter charges marks one of those uncommon instances.
Norman Cocks and Robert Thomas each received 15-year prison terms – reduced to 12 years for time spent in pre-trial custody – for beating a Kelowna, B.C., man to death, the Vancouver Province reported.
Thomas and Cocks beat Dain Phillips in what Associate Chief Justice Austin Cullen called a "brutal and determined" attack after the 53-year-old man tried to help his two sons in a dispute with two of the motorcycle gang's associates, the Province said.
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The pair pleaded guilty to manslaughter after being charged initially with second-degree murder. The Hells Angels affiliation wasn't brought up at sentencing, the Province said, because a trial is underway for four co-accused who've pleaded not guilty in the beating death.
Phillips and his sons were confronted by a group including Thomas and Cocks on a highway outside Kelowna in June 2011.
According to evidence outlined by the Crown in the trial of the four others, Thomas stepped out of a pickup truck holding a baseball bat and a hammer. He advanced towards Phillips, repeatedly yelling "You wanna f--- with the Hells Angels?"
Thomas hit Phillips with the bat, first in the leg, then in the head, the Crown said. Cocks went behind the victim and also swung a weapon at him. Phillips fell to the ground and later died in hospital.
The confrontation apparently was the climax of a continuing feud between Kody and Kaylin Phillips and brothers Matthew and Daniel McRae, who now are on trial for manslaughter. Cocks was a close friend of Daniel McRae, the Province said.
The same weekend as Phillips was killed, Cocks approached Kaylin Phillips at a Kelowna recycling depot, displayed a Hells Angels tattoo on his arm and asked "do you see this tattoo?" before punching Phillips in the face.
Cullen said the sentences he handed down reflected the gravity of the case, the Vancouver Sun said.
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"It is clear from the facts that this is a very serious case of its kind, involving a brutal and determined attack with weapons on an unarmed man who was attempting to resolve an on-going dispute between members of his family and others who were associated to these two accused," Cullen said.
The Sun reported this is the first B.C. case where full-patch Hells Angels have been convicted in a killing.
Phillips' widow, Jeannie, said in her pre-sentence victim-impact statement that her sons will never shake the memories of watching their father beaten to death.
"The actual images ingrained in the memories of Kaylin and Kody, who did witness this horrible reality, will continue to haunt them randomly and involuntarily for as long as they live," Jeannie Phillips said, according to the Sun.
Neither Cocks nor Thomas accepted Cullen's offer to address the court. There was no apology, though Cocks' lawyer said his client felt remorse, the Sun said.