One of four people charged in connection to the killing of Alex Norwegian in Hay River was sentenced on Thursday afternoon, but the dead man’s family questions if police could have saved him from dying.
Norwegian, 25, was left beaten and bloodied after being robbed of drugs and money on Boxing Day 2017.
Tyler Cayen – sentenced on Thursday to two years less a day in Supreme Court for being an accessory after the fact to manslaughter — was sure police would find Norwegian, since another of the four accused called RCMP with the attacked man’s location.
However, the court was told police never responded to the remote area of the town, as the caller only stated Norwegian’s black Mazda was being driven by an impaired driver.
“It’s a burning issue with the family,” a close relative said after the highly emotional hearing, noting the family will make a full statement on Friday after another accused – Sasha Cayen – is sentenced. Sasha Cayen pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery.
James Thomas has a preliminary inquiry into his first-degree murder and robbery charges set for next month. Levi Cayen is set to stand trial in early 2020 for first-degree murder and robbery.
The day-long sentencing hearing was described as a “very hard day for the family and loved ones” by Justice Andrew Mahar, who repeatedly studied Cayen, 33 – motionless and slightly hunched – while a 12-minute slideshow of Norwegian’s family photos and 11 victim impact statements were submitted.
“This is too much for a family to bear,” Norwegian’s mother Wanda said through tears, pausing frequently to gather herself. “It’s a living nightmare. I have a hard time sleeping, eating and breathing.
“I’m depressed, lonely and broken. You monsters. A piece of me died that day.”
She hasn’t been able to work out of grief and as a result her savings have been drained.
Reading from an agreed statement of facts, Crown prosecutor Jay Potter said sometime after 9 pm on Boxing Day 2017, Tyler Cayen and three other people contacted Norwegian as some of them wanted to purchase crack cocaine. They had also been drinking.
The group met in a remote location – Sandy Creek Road on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation – made the deal, and left.
A short while later, just after 10pm, Norwegian contacted one of the group to ask for help freeing his stuck black Mazda sedan. When the car was freed, Norwegian provided a piece of crack cocaine in return.
Some time later, a plan was allegedly hatched by two of the group to rob Norwegian.
A further drug purchase would be used as cover.
The pair took balaclavas and a small bat, known as a fish knocker, then headed off on a snowmobile.
Tyler Cayen stayed behind with a fourth member of the group.
After an hour had passed, the two people returned and stated Norwegian had been “jacked and beaten up,” but was alive, Potter told th court. The bat had been used to smash a window in the car, but had broken.
Cayen helped destroy evidence in a fire, including winter clothing.
One of the group left on a snowmobile to phone police and inform them of Norwegian’s location.
RCMP ‘not dispatched’
On December 27, 2017, at 4:05 am, the RCMP’s operational command centre received a 36-second call from a pay phone outside the Rooster convenience store in Hay River.
The caller “reported an impaired driver driving a smashed-up vehicle turning off onto the Sandy Creek Road near the Hay River reserve,” Potter said.
“The caller did not give his name or the name of this driver, nor did the caller provide any further description of the vehicle.
“The RCMP were not dispatched to Sandy Creek Road in response to this call.”
A member of the group and Cayen had also gone off to search for Norwegian’s stash of drugs at another location – known as the Lagoon Road – but couldn’t find anything.
On that trip, Cayen said he was concerned about Norwegian’s well-being and suggested the pair check on him. But he was told all should be well, as RCMP were being called and “soon police would go to that area,” Potter said.
On the morning of December 28, 2017, Norwegian was found dead in his car by a snowplow operator. Temperatures had plummeted down to -33C, factoring in windchill.
He was found without a coat, covered in blood, and slumped over the steering wheel, while the car had extensive damage. Police noticed the vehicle had been driven a short way until it ran into a snowbank.
An autopsy revealed Norwegian had numerous cuts and contusions and his skull was fractured. The cause of death was hypothermia. He also had cocaine in his system.
Alcohol and cocaine
Police made arrests in the coming weeks, with Cayen initially providing false information before cooperating and ultimately pleading guilty.
“The family plays out scenarios in which Alex could have been saved,” read one of the victim impact statements. “For every day, may you always remember your heinous crime.”
Another victim impact statement noted how caring and kind Norwegian was and how he planned to get out of his drug lifestyle.
Defence lawyer Peter Harte said Cayen grew up in a dysfunctional family setting that was wracked with alcohol and violence. Both of his parents were residential school survivors.
Cayen was an alcoholic who spent up to $1,000 a day – when he had it – on alcohol and cocaine.
In a quiet voice, Cayen told the court he thinks about the night Norwegian – a friend and distant relative, he said – died in frigid winter conditions.
Justice Mahar agreed to the sentence, submitted jointly by the Crown and defence.
With time served, Cayen will have an additional 1.5 months added to his existing time behind bars. He is also to take counselling and will be on three years’ probation, the first year of which he must abstain from alcohol.
He had already been serving a 120-day sentence for his third drunk driving conviction.