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Appeal court rejects killer Denecho King's challenge of life sentence

The NWT Court of Appeal has denied Denecho King’s appeal of his 2014 second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges.

A panel of three judges rejected King’s grounds for overturning his sentence on Monday, saying that “much of the appellant's arguments in support of this remedy offer nothing more than speculation and fanciful speculation at that.” 

Three appeal court judges decided that even if the evidence that Denecho King challenged was ruled inadmissible, to find King as not guilty of second-degree murder “would have been an unreasonable verdict.” King's DNA was found on the handle of a killer-blade used in a 2014 attack.
photo courtesy of the RCMP

King was found guilty for the murder of John Wifladt and aggravated assault against Colin Digness. Both victims were found “significantly injured and covered in blood,” in Digness's Yellowknife apartment. 

Digness owned three ornamental swords. When the police arrived, they found the display “overturned, all the swords out of their sheaths, and the two longer swords covered with blood and located near the men’s bodies.”

Later, King was seen on video footage from the Northern Lites Motel lobby, where he spoke with the concierge while making swinging motions with his arms, and saying something about “defending himself from a couple of guys with a bat or something,” the concierge recalled.  

The trial judge, Justice Andrew Mahar, concluded that “putting together the presence of Denecho King at the Sunridge Apartments at the exact, narrow time that the men were injured, the compelling DNA evidence, and the pantomime motions made by Mr. King in the Northern Lites Motel lobby, the only rational conclusion I can reach is that the DNA was deposited by Denecho King when he used the swords to injure Colin Digness and ultimately kill John Wifladt.”

The RCMP's forensic inspection revealed that “the appellant’s DNA was found in large quantities on the handles of the two bloodied swords located near the bodies.” 

This was one issue King sought to appeal.

While the defence did not deny the DNA evidence, King's lawyer suggested that it was a result of contamination and thereby placed on the swords by police, or the victims themselves. Mahar dismissed that possibility at trial and the Court of Appeal agreed, referring to the amount of King’s DNA on the sword handles as “indisputable evidence.”

While a DNA expert acknowledged that scenarios of secondary DNA transfer were possible, they are rare and “would only account for small amounts of DNA in any event.”

At trial, prosecutors told the court of some of King’s other behaviours on the night of the attack. They described how he broke a window, threw a chair and assaulted a woman in the backseat of a cab. 

However, information about an accused’s past behaviour, also known as character evidence, is generally deemed inadmissible at criminal trials because it could influence a judge or jury.

This was another basis for King’s appeal. 

However, the appeal court determined that “this was not character evidence but rather part of the narrative.”

The court of appeal declined to set aside King’s convictions.

They judges decided that even if the evidence that King challenged was ruled inadmissible, to find King as not guilty “would have been an unreasonable verdict.”

“In our opinion, the trial judge's reasoning on this issue discloses no basis to warrant appellate intervention,” the appeal judges stated. 

King’s life sentence, with no chance of parole for 12 years, therefore remains in place. He will continue serving his sentence at the Edmonton Institution, a maximum security federal prison in Alberta.