Levi Cayen is on trial for murder in a Northern town where all rumours, gossip and hearsay are banned in court.
Without small talk to explain tensions and relationships surrounding the death of Alex Norwegian, Cayen’s defence lawyers took a risk.
They called a former drug dealer to the stand: Adam Desrosiers, whose clear and matter-of-fact testimony shed some light on what happened near Hay River on Christmas Day in 2017.
On March 1, Justice Shannon Smallwood confirmed with counsel in the Supreme Court that the jury is to only hear “direct knowledge” during this five-week trial.
Smallwood adjusted daily hearings to start at 9 a.m. instead of the standard 9:30 a.m. start, and shortened lunch breaks to play catch-up after Covid-19 delays and two parking lot fires at the courthouse in the last two weeks.
On Tuesday, a former dealer and associate of both the victim and accused, took the stand and underwent cross-examination.
Via video link from another room in the courthouse, Desrosiers appeared with a fresh haircut and black shirt.
Cayen’s lawyer, Alan Regel, asked Desrosiers if he had turned his life around.
“I’ve been doing my best,” said Desrosiers. “Addiction is a brutal battle.”
Desrosiers said he’s no longer selling crack, and Regel acknowledged his attempts to improve his life.
“Is it your belief that addicts will do almost anything for crack?” Regel asked Desrosiers.
“No, actually, it’s not,” said Desrosiers. “I don’t believe drugs make you do anything. You know right from wrong. It’s just sheer greed.”
On Christmas Day in 2017, Norwegian showed up to Desrosiers’ home and asked him to cook some crack.
Even though they ran in different circles, Desrosiers wasn’t surprised to see Norwegian at his door.
“I had lots of dope. I had lots of money, and there were a lot of people trying to be in my life at the time,” he told the court.
Plus, he had a reputation for cooking a good batch.
At times during questioning, Desrosiers smiled or laughed, not in a manner of disrespect but due to the amusement of trying to explain crack addiction in formal terms for the court.
An example was when Regel asked him if he “stashed” his drugs away to keep them safe.
“Yeah, obviously,” Desrosiers laughed.
While at Desrosiers’ house, Norwegian, 25, appeared “paranoid” and misplaced and found his own stash three times.
Desrosiers said Norwegian’s behaviour wasn’t unusual for a crack smoker: “People do some … messed up things when they are high,” he said.
Through his cross-examination, Regel attempted to understand Norwegian’s state of mind shortly before his death.
He began partying on the Hay River Reserve, which Desrosiers “found odd.” Norwegian had gone from “laid back, easy going” to “paranoid and uneasy” he added.
Norwegian was concerned about making money and “heading south,” but Desrosiers remained tight-lipped on names and groups, and Regel didn’t push him.
“This whole thing could be a danger to myself,” Desrosiers reminded the court, reiterating that he would provide information necessary to this case, and nothing more.
After Norwegian’s body was discovered on Dec. 28, 2017, Desrosiers ran into a group of locals at The Rooster, a convenience store on the Mackenzie Highway.
He later told police they were “acting sketchy,” although he couldn’t recall in court how many or exactly who was there.
After Norwegian’s body was found, Desrosiers received text messages from one of co-accused that made him even more suspicious.
After a 15-minute break, defence lawyer Tú Pham took over questioning Desrosiers and reiterated that he wanted “direct knowledge only,” not rumours or hearsay.
The court heard that after Norwegian’s body was discovered, Roy Norwegian visited Desrosiers’ home on Dec. 28 and 29 and appeared to be conducting his own investigation into his son’s death, including asking to see Desrosiers’ truck tires.
Desrosiers said Roy was “looking for answers.”
“I don’t blame him. I would too,” he said.
Later, one of the co-accused came over and mentioned he helped Alex out of the snowbank just hours before he died.
Desrosiers told him Roy had been over and wanted to speak with him. The co-accused then left, after realizing “he put himself at the scene and became squeamish.”
Against his street code, Desrosiers took what he knew to the police.
“It’s very frowned upon in the drug world to be co-operating with the RCMP,” Desrosiers laughed.
He didn’t even want people to see his truck parked outside of the police station.
Acting on what he called a “gut feeling,” he said, “It was way too close to home. It really bothered me… I did the right thing.”
Correction: Tú Pham was misidentified in a previous version of this story. Yellowknifer apologizes for the error and any confusion or embarrassment it may have caused.