Accused in Edmonton Chinatown killings opens up to judge during pretrial hearing

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Warning: this story includes references to suicide. If you need help, the AHS Mental Health Help Line can be reached at 1-877-303-2642, or the Suicide Crisis Helpline at 9-8-8. 

Justin Bone stood in the prisoner’s box, stacks of legal documents balanced on the wooden barrier in front of him.

As Justice Avril Inglis listened, Bone spoke at length about his life and legal woes since being charged in a shocking double homicide that shook Edmonton’s Chinatown.

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“I don’t want to be alive,” Bone said, discussing his struggles as a maximum security inmate at the Edmonton Remand Centre. “I’m over there every day not wanting to wake up, and I’m not getting help.” 

On his circumstances in the lead-up to the killings, he said: “I get thrown on the streets, homeless, by the RCMP, illegally. I did everything I was supposed to.”

“Hope Mission was all they said they had.”

“The only person who helped me out was a dealer.”

Bone was in the Court of King’s Bench Thursday for a pretrial hearing aimed at salvaging November dates scheduled for his second-degree murder trial in the deaths of Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang.

Bone is self-represented after firing four legal aid lawyers. He is pursuing a Fisher application, a rare legal manoeuvre that allows a judge to order private counsel be funded at rates above those offered by legal aid.

Bone is intent on hiring Tom Engel, a defence lawyer and police critic who specializes in corrections law. To succeed, he must convince Inglis that Engel is the only lawyer who can ensure he receives a fair trial.

“I may look like a criminal but I want to do the right thing, not only for me but as a person of Edmonton, Alberta,” he said. “I have legit reasons that need to be seen and need to be looked at.” 

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Trang, 64, and Hoang, 61, were beaten to death outside their workplaces May 18, 2022. Their deaths stunned Edmontonians and led to new efforts to revitalize Chinatown, funding for a policing hub in the neighbourhood and jabs between local and provincial politicians.

memorial hoang
A memorial for Ban Hoang and Hung Trang outside city hall in Edmonton on May 28, 2022. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

The CBC later revealed Bone had been dropped in the city by RCMP officers three days before the killings, despite a court order banning him from being in the city unsupervised.

Bone had been in remand for another offence but was released to a home in Alberta Beach. He was transported to Edmonton after RCMP received a complaint that Bone threatened the homeowner.

Bone prepared an affidavit for Thursday’s hearing arguing why Engel was the lawyer for him. However, he said after reading the Crown’s arguments, he realized he needed to include additional evidence in the filing.

Bone said based on the case law, he’s “very worried” the court will deny his application. On several occasions, he became flustered with his ability to articulate himself.

Inglis offered words of encouragement each time.

“You’re doing very well,” she said. “What I was impressed by is that you read the materials prepared by Crown counsel, clearly understood them, and realized the steps you needed to improve your application.” 

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Bone also pleaded with Inglis to do something about conditions at the remand centre, claiming he has received inadequate mental-health care.

This place has destroyed my life,” he said. “This place has abused me in ways I’ve never had justice for.” 

He told Inglis he tried to kill himself earlier this year.

“Oh, Mr. Bone, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she replied. “You’re saying you’re not getting the help you need at ERC … Your well-being is important to me, it really is.”

She nevertheless said she is “not all-powerful” and “not the boss of anybody or anything” and can only order corrections officials to do something under specific circumstances.

She said completing the Fisher application and preserving in the November trial dates is key.

“You don’t want to postpone that trial because it’s only going to add to your time in remand.”

Bone has already had trial dates in a separate home-invasion case tossed. He was scheduled to face trial on those charges last month but did not proceed because he did not have a lawyer.

The parties will be in court next Friday for a status update.

November’s trial dates will be close to the 30-month post offence timeline set in the Supreme Court’s Jordan decision. Cases can be tossed for delays after that point, but only if the delays can be proven to be the fault of the court or the Crown.

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