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Two defendants found not guilty of murder and attempted murder due to intoxication

Intoxication and mental illness were also factors in a judge’s decision on how much time a convicted murderer must serve before becoming eligible for parole.
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Defendants’ intoxication and mental illness were factors in the charges they were convicted of or their parole eligibility during three recent court cases with Northern Manitoba connections.

Evidence of accused and convicted persons’ mental health and level of intoxication played significant parts in whether they were convicted of lesser charges or their parole eligibility during three recent court cases with ties to Northern Manitoba.

In two cases, defendants were found not to have intended to kill their victims, despite having repeatedly hit them in the head with a rock and a hammer.

In another, a convicted women’s mental health and degree of drug and alcohol intoxication lowered her “moral blameworthiness” as a judge considered how long she should spend in prison before being eligible for parole.

In the case of Jonathan Flett, a St. Theresa Point First Nation member who was banished from his home community at the age of 15, the question before the judge was whether he was guilty of attempted murder or only of the lesser charge of aggravated assault, to which he had entered a guilty plea.

Flett was found to have hit a man in the head with a hammer nine times, the last blow penetrating the man’s skull, during an assault in September 2020, when he was 18 years old, just a week after having been released from a jail sentence for possessing a concealed weapon and other offences. He had been drinking since 11 a.m. on the day of the attack, which took place around 10 p.m. outside the Maryland Hotel beer store in Winnipeg. Because of how drunk Flett was, as well as his impaired intellectual ability, and the experiences of his childhood, which included witnessing serious assaults and having been blinded in one eye during a gang initiation beating at the age of 13, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Theodor Bock found that he had not formed a specific intention to kill the victim. Without that intent, a person can not be convicted of attempted murder, even if they displayed indifference to the possible consequences of their actions.

“Indifference of such magnitude is obviously unreasonable, but it is not unimaginable, particularly for someone like Mr. Flett, whose haphazard upbringing and traumatic childhood are attributable at least in part to the indifference of others toward him,” Bock wrote in his decision.

In another decision, related to events that took place in June 2020, August Caribou of Pukatawagan was found guilty of manslaughter for the killing of Treena Castel on the day that he graduated from high school. Caribou had been tried for second-degree murder, but Queen’s Bench Justice James Edmond ruled that he had been unable to form the intent to kill as a result of intoxication and mental illness.

Caribou had been drinking whiskey, beer and possibly tequila prior to the killing, and also smoking marijuana. A family member said he was the most drunk he had ever seen him and the court heard evidence that Caribou had had prior episodes of psychosis related to cannabis use, and also that he had poor impulse control as a result of suspected exposure to alcohol in the womb.

Caribou told an RCMP officer that he had hit Castel in the head with a rock until she was no longer breathing, even continuing the attack with the largest piece of the rock after it broke, but said it was “one of his personalities” that was responsible for the attack. Despite the fact that his psychiatrist didn’t believe that Caribou suffered from dissociative identity disorder, Edmond decided that he hadn’t formed the necessary intent to kill Castel and may not have been aware of what the consequences of his actions could be because of his level of intoxication.

“The combination of the substance use disorder and being in an advanced state of intoxication at the time of the incident … lead me to conclude that the circumstantial evidence respecting the accused’s state of mind, is reasonably capable of supporting an inference other than that the accused is guilty,” Edmond ruled.

A defence of advanced intoxication can only be used for specific intent offences, which include certain types of homicides.

In his March sentencing of Leona Blacksmith, the written version of which was released Aug. 4, Edmond found that the Cross Lake woman, who was convicted last December of second-degree murder for the 2019 death of her grandmother Edith Blacksmith, should spend a minimum of 12 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence, though it is up to the judge to decide how long must be served before parole eligibility, between a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 25.

Edmond said the circumstances of the crime Leona Blacksmith was guilty of required more than the minimum 10 years and that it would have been longer than 12 but for mitigating factors.

“The circumstances lead me to conclude that the combination of her mental illness and intoxication on the evening in question were contributing factors to this senseless, violent attack and murder of her grandmother, “ Edmond said. “These are significant factors in assessing her moral blameworthiness.”

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