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Four-year sentence for teen who beat cabbie to death in ‘senseless’ attack

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo. James Schiller, 51, is shielded from media family members as he exits the Yellowknife Courthouse Tuesday.

A Yellowknife teen who beat an on-duty taxi driver to death in a “brutal” and “senseless” act of “uncontrolled rage” received a four-year sentence Tuesday — two years shorter than what prosecutors were calling for.

Elias Schiller, 19, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Ahmed Mahamud Ali, 73, a longtime City Cab driver described by devastated friends and family as a pillar in Yellowknife’s Somalian community.

“(Elias) lost control of himself and did something awful,” Justice Andrew Mahar said Tuesday, addressing a crowded Yellowknife courtroom packed with both friends and former colleagues of Ali and members of the Schiller family.

Mahar settled on a sentencing recommendation submitted by Elias’ lawyer, Lance McClean.
Originally charged with second-degree murder, Elias was arrested on Nov. 19 2018 — just hours after Ali was found deceased in the backseat of his still-running cab outside the former Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Around 3:20 a.m that morning, Ali picked Elias up from Fraser Arms Apartments before driving him to his Wilkinson Crescent home, which he shared with his father, 51-year-old James Schiller. In the driveway of the Schillers’ home, an argument ensued between Ali and Elias. Ali shoved the much larger Elias, angering the teen.

Ali then exited his cab and fled. Elias chased him, catching up with him in the cul-de-sac of Wilkinson Crescent.

There, he fatally assaulted Ali. Elias was intoxicated at the time.

He left Ali laying in the snow for 25 minutes before he and his father James — who later pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to aggravated assault — decided to take Ali to the hospital. Elias moved Ali by his head into the backseat of the taxi. James, alone, then drove the taxi the hospital, parking in the emergency room parking lot.

Both men mistakenly believed Ali was still alive at the time James drove him to the hospital, the court heard.

The longtime cab driver was in fact dead.

An autopsy later revealed Ali died as a result of neck compression and blunt head trauma.

Father tried to cover up son’s violent assault

James left Ali in the backseat of the cab. He did not go inside the hospital to alert staff. Instead, James called hospital staff from a payphone. Using an accent to disguise his voice, he advised hospital staff there was a man bleeding in a taxi cab outside. The call caused confusion among staff, and Ali’s body wasn’t discovered until some 25 minutes later. Staff, along with a City Cab driver sent by a dispatcher to check on Ali, located Ali’s body in the backseat of his taxi.

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.
James Schiller, 51, is shielded from media by family members as he exits the Yellowknife Courthouse Tuesday.

Later that morning, James shovelled snow from his yard out onto the cul-de-sac in what prosecutors called a “botched attempt” to cover up blood at the scene of the assault.

Investigating Mounties soon found two spots of blood and a toque laying in the snow. Elias was arrested around 10 a.m. The court heard Elias confessed and apologized before the RCMP interview had even begun, telling police he did not mean to kill Ali. He expressed remorse and said he didn’t rob Ali.

“In an act of uncontrolled rage, Elias chased (Ali) down and viciously beat him to death on the street,” said prosecutor Jill Andrews. With no indication of a clear motive and no evidence that a robbery occurred, Andrews said there is “no explanation for this violent and senseless crime.

“This was a horrific crime that sent shock waves through our community."

Mahar, acknowledging the four-year sentence imposed Tuesday was “unusually low,” noted Elias is an “unusually young” first-time offender. Elias was 18 when he beat Ali to death. Mahar considered Elias’ circumstances as an Indigenous offender, his youthfulness, early guilty plea and “clear indication of remorse,” in rendering his sentencing decision, the court heard.

McClean said his client has struggled with substance abuse since he was 13. He dropped out of school in Grade 9 after facing bullying about his weight and Indigenous identity. Elias grew up with some alcoholism and verbal abuse at home.

Mahar noted that at the time of the beating death, Elias was depressed and dealing with anger issues.

“I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart,” Elias told Ali’s friends and family in court Tuesday.

Mahar accepted a joint-recommendation from the Crown and James Schiller’s lawyer, Tracy Bock, sentencing the 51-year-old to a six-month jail sentence. With pre-trial custody credit, that amounts to time served, meaning James has no time left to serve.

“(James) was confronted with an almost impossible situation at 3:30 in the morning,” said Mahar. While he broke the law and made poor choices, Mahar said James did so to protect his son and to get help for Ali.

‘I forgive you’

Fourteen victim impact statements were submitted by Ali’s friends and family.

The court heard that Ali, like many other cab drivers who now reside in the capital, came to Canada in search of a better life.

Ali, known as a kind, hardworking man with a “contagious” laugh, provided financial support to over two dozen orphans in Somalia, the court heard.

Several cab drivers said they now drive in fear following the death of Ali, a veteran driver of 20-plus years who they often turned to for advice. They described not trusting passengers, even customers they’ve known for years.

"This nightmare will never end," wrote one friend.

Numerous letters, citing Islamic principles, emphasized the need to try and forgive the Schillers.

“I forgive you,” a friend of the late cab driver said Monday.

Mahar called the gestures an “impressive and heartbreaking offer of reconciliation.”

Elias Schiller has been in custody since his arrest in November 2018. With credit for time time in pre-trial custody, he has about two years and two months left to serve.