Nearly six years after police thwarted a dial-a-dope operation outside the Penticton Walmart store, BC’s highest court has upheld the convictions against one of the dealers.
Cheryl Lynn Aeichele, 44, and Elkena Michael Knauff, 37, were convicted in June 2020 by the B.C. Supreme Court on three counts, each of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
They were arrested in September 2017 in a vehicle parked outside the Penticton Walmart store. Police recovered from the crime scene 26 grams of cocaine, 28 grams of methamphetamine and nine grams of fentanyl.
The couple’s case moved through the court system at an unusually slow pace, as their lawyers unsuccessfully tried to have the charges dropped for police delay and violation of their clients’ rights.
When the pair were finally sentenced in January 2022, Aeichele, who was described by the judge as “very close to a first offender”, was given an 18-month suspended sentence of house arrest.
Knauff, whose criminal record since 2014 included 15 court order violations, along with convictions for aggravated assault, carrying a concealed weapon and fleeing police, was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Knauff subsequently challenged his convictions in the BC Court of Appeal on the grounds that the judge incorrectly assessed Knauff’s credibility.
According to the BCCA decision, which was made on February 10, 2023, but was only published online last week, the core of Knauff’s argument was a small bag of cocaine that police found on his lap.
Knauff testified at trial that he was just along for the ride to Walmart when two men suddenly approached the vehicle in the parking lot. He said one of the men saw police approaching and threw the bag of cocaine through the passenger-side window onto Knauff’s lap.
Knauff argued that he was unfairly forced at trial to explain the unknown man’s motivation for throwing the bag of cocaine at him and to explain why Aeichele parked in a remote part of the store’s grounds.
The Crown at trial described Knauff’s version of events as an “imaginatively implausible story”, and the BC Court of Appeal concurred.
“When I read the (trial) judge’s reasons as a whole and in the context of the file, I see no flaw in his credibility finding that Mr Knauff’s evidence was ‘completely implausible, irrational’, and his rejection of that evidence as unbelievable and “fabricated,” Judge Gail Dickson wrote on behalf of the three-member appeals panel.
At the January 2022 sentencing hearing, it emerged that Knauff had absconded to Surrey after he was shot on 26 October 2021 in a failed attempt on his life outside a house in the Indian Rock area north of Naramata. Police at the time described the attack as related to the drug world.
The court heard that Aeichele was also a victim of drug subculture violence when she was the victim of home burglaries in 2019 and 2021 that left her with stab wounds, broken ribs, punctured lungs and more.