Tears flowed in a Yellowknife courtroom as a judge found Colten McNeely guilty of manslaughter in the death of his friend Lloyd Edgi during a drunken early-morning confrontation in Fort Good Hope.
McNeely had faced a charge of second-degree murder. However, Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar on Tuesday said evidence did not exist to support that charge.
Mahar characterized the case as extremely difficult for the Crown to prosecute, based as it was, he said, largely on “circumstantial evidence and intoxicated witnesses.”
At his judge-alone trial last fall, McNeely testified he stabbed Edgi in self-defence in September 2017.
He had sought out his good friend to smooth things over after two earlier fights – which left McNeely with a bloody nose – over an affair McNeely had with Edgi’s spouse.
“Everyone was intoxicated, to some extent,” said Mahar. Several of Edgi’s family and friends, along with a number of plain-clothes RCMP officers, sat in the public gallery.
“This isn’t really a whodunnit [but] the Crown has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” the judge continued. “Colten armed himself because he was worried about [meeting up with Edgi]. That was catastrophically stupid and reckless.”
Mahar said he was, however, willing to give McNeely the “benefit of the doubt” over some aspects of his testimony – though he noted evidence of nine separate attempted knife strikes on Edgi’s body or clothing.
At trial, the court heard Edgi died from a stab wound to the heart after being found covered in blood at approximately 4am. Edgi had no defensive wounds on his hands, which was “hard to believe, unless they were otherwise utilized,” said Mahar.
“I am not convinced he had the intention to kill or cause bodily harm,” said the judge. “Obviously, I am giving Colten McNeely a significant amount of credit.
“I am not willing to accept that he is guilty of murder, but of manslaughter.”
The court had heard at trial that, prior to McNeely arming himself and venturing out to make amends with Edgi, he believed he had drunk up to 15 ounces of vodka and consumed cannabis. He had also given Edgi a mickey of vodka.
Following his death, the 28-year-old Edgi was described as a loving father and avid all-season athlete. He had been apprenticing in the construction industry and was in a relationship with a woman who had just moved with him to Fort Good Hope from Fort Smith.
McNeely’s sentencing hearing is expected to be held in Fort Good Hope later this year.