The judge-only murder trial for Wilfred Abraham came to a close Thursday as the NWT Supreme Court heard Crown and defence lawyers’ final submissions.
Abraham, 56, is accused of second-degree murder in connection with Ralph Sifton’s death in Fort Smith two years ago.
In August 2018, Abraham assaulted Sifton in a backyard near the Fort Smith men’s shelter in an attack that rendered him unconscious and ultimately killed him.
The subject of the trial is whether Abraham intended to kill Sifton, and if charges of second-degree murder or of manslaughter are appropriate as a result.
Second-degree murder generally has a sentencing range of 10-25 years in custody. The appropriate range for manslaughter is much greater as cases of manslaughter range from near accident to near murder and rely heavily on the circumstances.
Defence lawyer Austin Corbett argued that Abraham did not intend to kill Sifton and should therefore be charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter.
He said that due to Abraham’s level of intoxication, he was unable to properly process consequences and was therefore unaware of the extent of his actions.
The court heard Tuesday from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Marc Nesca, who explained the ways that cognitive function becomes impaired with alcohol. In Nesca’s testimony, Corbett says he explained that under the influence of alcohol the brain’s control process and executive function are reduced. The court heard that an intoxicated person cannot properly anticipate consequences and therefore is no longer making the same decisions that they would when sober.
As a result, Corbett says “the science backs up that we should have an intoxication defence” since “intoxication equates automatism.”
Corbett pointed to a number of community testimonies indicating that Abraham had been drinking all day prior to the assault. The court heard that he was swerving on his bike, yelling in the street and unable to walk in a straight line, demonstrating severe alcoholic impairment.
Corbett also identified events from earlier that day as a provocative. Hours prior to the assault, Abraham had been sleeping on a couch in the same backyard where the assault later occurred – a common occurrence as the yard is near the men’s shelter – when Sifton, wearing steel-toed boots, kicked him in the face.
Crown Prosecutor Morgan Fane says this is a motive.
After being kicked in the face, Abraham went to the shelter to retrieve a pair of shoes. When a shelter employee asked about the bruises forming on his face, Abraham apparently said he had been “fighting with Ralph.”
Abraham then returned to the yard to find Sifton on the couch and began attacking him. Fane says Abraham meant to kill the victim because during the attack, and after the fact, he repeatedly said that he did.
Throughout the three-week trial, witnesses to the attack testified that they heard Abraham yell, “I’m going to kill him” a number of times.
Abraham also apparently told the police responding to a neighbour’s 911 call that he “wanted to kill him.”
“I was going to disable him; he had no right to kick me,” he apparently said. “He kicked me in the head. What am I to do? What am I to do? What am I to do?”
Fane argues that while it would appear Abraham was drunk, he had the cognitive ability to tell the shelter worker he got into a fight with Sifton and to respond to police instructions.
Fane highlights the way Abraham takes off his shoes and socks for police using his right foot and big toe to remove his left sock and vice versa for the other side. This suggests functioning motor skills and a level of maintaining his faculties, Fane said.
“Did he have anything other than murder in his heart?” Fane asked the court rhetorically. “I suggest the answer is that he did not.”
Justice Andrew Mahar is scheduled to render his decision on Oct. 15.
He thanked both the Crown and defence for “excellent submissions.”
“I have a lot to think about,” Mahar said.