Relatives urge judge to heed their forgiveness after brother’s death
Family members of a man killed in Behchokǫ̀ two years ago asked the NWT Supreme Court to take their forgiveness into account when sentencing his brother.
Colton Migwi used a hunting knife to attack and kill his brother, Andrew, early in the morning of March 7, 2020. He has been in custody since and had pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
In victim impact statements, family members spoke of a sense of losing both men following the attack.
Georgina Migwi, mother to Andrew and Colton, told Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar in her statement: “We can all move forward in a better way … please think about me and my family.
“We don’t want the court to look at this as any other murder case.”
Mahar ultimately sentenced Colton to serve six years for the manslaughter of Andrew. Taking into account time already served (980 days, multiplied by a factor of 1.5 in Canadian law to give just over four years), he must serve a little under two years, allowing him to remain in Yellowknife’s jail.
The prosecution had sought an eight-year sentence. The defence had asked for 16 months with three years’ probation.
Before reaching his decision, Mahar said: “It’s a difficult case. I don’t know exactly what to do with this.”
The primary difficulties were the near-absence of evidence about what took place when the Migwi brothers ended up alone in a Behchokǫ̀ house that night, and uncertainty over Colton Migwi’s mental health at the time.
Andrew had been drinking with a friend earlier in the evening. Colton arrived at the house after a shift at a local store, where – according to an agreed statement of facts read out in court – he had been subjected to some taunting from Andrew. Colton had expressed to a friend his frustration at having to go home to his brother that night.
Some time after 12:30am, when a witness noted they had seen him sober, Colton became drunk. At some point after 12:30am, he killed his brother. As there were no witnesses and Colton has said he has little to no recollection of the events, there is no easy way to establish what happened – and in what order.
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For example, there is no evidence that categorically concludes whether the attack was unprovoked or took place in the context of a broader fight.
Statements provided by residents and police officers in the day or two following the incident suggest Colton appeared genuinely unsure of what had taken place, slowly reaching the realization that he may have been the one to kill his brother. He previously had no criminal record.
“It’s not as though there is anything else other than this mysterious event,” said defence counsel Peter Harte. “Since day one, Colton has struggled to accept what happened.”
In a victim impact statement read to the court on Wednesday by William Greenland, the Migwis’ grandmother – Dora Migwi – said she understood Colton had run out of the medication he had been taking daily to help his mental health, and had been unable to access more.
“That’s how he snapped,” said Dora in a written statement.
Colton – now 32 years old – refused to cooperate with a psychiatric assessment ordered earlier this year that could have seen him declared not criminally responsible for Andrew’s death.
Harte said Colton did not cooperate with that assessment because he “did not want to be stuck in the limbo which, unfortunately, is the criminal mental health system” and was worried about giving the Crown grounds to seek a longer sentence.
“It’s not as though it’s being feigned,” said Harte of Colton’s condition. “There’s a history going back to 2007.”
In June, Harte had described “auditory hallucinations” in which Colton might hear voices urging him to kill. In court on Wednesday, the lawyer said he believed that “on medication, Colton can be trusted to behave as society expects him to behave.”
‘Loss of two sons’
Dora and Georgina Migwi each urged Justice Mahar to ensure that Colton’s sentence allowed him to serve his time in Yellowknife’s North Slave Correctional Complex, which they said would provide a more appropriate setting and opportunity for healing than time served in a federal penitentiary – which is the result of any NWT sentence of two years or more.
Georgina’s statement read as a message that the family had forgiven Colton and acknowledged his mental health issues, and hoped the judge would recognize that.
“I forgive him completely,” his mother’s statement read.
“We may never heal from this completely,” she said of Andrew’s death. “We miss him so much. I worry a lot that his children will never get to know their dad.”
But, she added, a lengthy sentence in federal prison for Colton “could be just as difficult for me.”
“He made a mistake. We know we can deal with it, accept this fact, and learn from it,” Georgina’s statement read.
“The loss of two sons at the same time has been a real, painful struggle.”
Charles Brintnell, the father, expressed a similar sentiment.
Crown prosecutor Duane Praught told Mahar that despite the family’s plea, the “very brutal nature” of the assault on Andrew – involving multiple stab wounds across the body – meant Colton should serve a sentence that reflects “denunciation” of the crime.
Praught said there was not enough information for the court to reach any conclusion about Colton’s mental health on the night of the killing.
“There was something going on – but we don’t know what,” Praught said, suggesting that without a firm assessment by an expert, any conclusions drawn would be speculation.
Colton, invited to address the court, said he was sorry for his actions. He said there remained time in which to heal and he would do his best to do so.
‘Very gentle’ Andrew Migwi remembered
Delivering his sentencing decision, Mahar said the case was “entirely unique on its facts.”
“It’s unusual that the audience isn’t divided when we deal with a homicide case,” the judge told family members in the public gallery, thanking them for the comments they had made in their victim impact statements.
“The Crown has urged me to take very little regard of Colton’s medical difficulties – but I can’t do that,” Mahar said.
The judge said a psychologist’s earlier finding that Colton had been undergoing a psychotic episode at the time of the attack had to be taken into account.
“This was inexplicable, otherwise,” he concluded.
A three-year probation period following jail will see Colton instructed to report to a probation officer daily if he stops taking his prescribed medication. (Mahar said that while a judge cannot order someone to take medication, that requirement was likely to ensure compliance.)
Colton must undergo counselling or therapy as directed and must abstain from alcohol, cannabis and illegal drugs throughout probation.
“I can only wish you the best,” the judge told him, “and hope that your family and you can heal as best you can.”
In the wake of his death, Andrew Migwi was described by friends and family as a funny, loving father.
“He always had this little smirk on his face. He liked to tell jokes,” sister Samantha Migwi said in 2020. “He was very gentle. He always knew what to say.”
In tributes sent to Cabin Radio, Andrew was remembered as a “kind, soft-spoken young man” by Holly Rabesca, who spoke highly of his friendship with her younger brother. Darin Daniels said he would miss “conversations and laughs” with Andrew, praising his Halo video game skills as he concluded: “We all love and miss you, brother.”