Denecho King, found guilty of carrying out a deadly 2014 sword attack in Yellowknife, wants his conviction overturned.
His lawyer, Alan Regel, argued Tuesday that his client’s conviction was the result of numerous errors committed by Justice Andrew Mahar.
Mahar found King found guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated assault following a judge-alone trial in 2018. King received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 12 years.
In the early hours of Dec. 14, 2014, friends John Wifladt and Colin Digness were found bloodied and barely breathing at Digness’ Sunridge Place Apartments unit.
Wifladt later died.
Digness was left with life-changing injuries. They were both stabbed by a pair of decorative swords owned by Digness. A motive for the attack was never established. The Crown’s theory, accepted by Mahar, saw King enter the apartment complex in search of a party before the attack occurred.
During Tuesday’s virtual hearing before the NWT Court of Appeal — the first of its kind amid the Covid-19 pandemic — Regel urged the three-member panel to acquit King.
At trial, prosecutors outlined King’s activity in the hours leading up to the sword attack. He broke a window, threw a chair and assaulted a woman in the backseat of a cab, the court heard. Those details, however, amounted to character evidence, argued Regel.
Generally, character evidence — information about an accused’s past behaviour — is inadmissible at criminal trials because it could influence a judge or jury.
That’s what happened in King’s case, Regel asserted. He said Mahar unfairly found King guilty, in part, because of the character evidence presented by prosecutors.
“These errors amount to a substantial miscarriage of justice as they likely had an impact on the verdict, which must be set aside,” Regel wrote in statements submitted to the court.
DNA evidence played a major role in King’s conviction.
At trial, an expert testified that large amounts of King’s DNA were found on the two swords used in the attack.
Regel, echoing the defence’s theory at trial, argued that Mahar failed to consider alternatives about how King’s DNA made it onto the swords.
Jay Bran, who represented King during the trial, theorized King’s DNA could have been left on the swords by first responders or police — a submission that was dismissed by Mahar as next to impossible.
King’s appeal also hinges on statements made by a witness at trial. The witness said King told him he’d killed two people. Regel, challenging the man’s testimony, said the account is likely the result of false or implanted memories.
Crown wants appeal dismissed
Crown prosecutor Blair MacPherson challenged King’s appeal on Tuesday.
Evidence related to King’s behaviour that night amounts to “narrative evidence” — it was important for the judge to know what King was doing before the attack — argued MacPherson.
If King’s acquittal is granted, the Crown wants the case to go back to trial.
King, donning a face mask, appeared in court via video from the Edmonton Institution, where he’s serving his sentence.
Judges overseeing the appeal have reserved their ruling.