Kevin Mantla believes he should be serving time for manslaughter – not second-degree murder – as he is Indigenous, his lawyer colluded with the Crown, and he told police he didn’t mean to kill Elvis Lafferty.
Appearing by video from the maximum-security Edmonton Institution on Monday, the Gamètì man shuffled through reams of notes and court documents as he made a rare Rowbotham application in the NWT Court of Appeal.
A Rowbotham application allows those who don’t qualify for legal aid, but still can’t afford to pay legal fees, to request a court-ordered lawyer.
Mantla, convicted of murdering Lafferty at a Yellowknife apartment in September 2015, says he has exhausted all other means of finding a private or publicly funded lawyer to appeal his conviction.
“I have lots to say. I’m going to do the best that I can,” Mantla told Justice Shannon Smallwood, noting his memory is limited after years of alcohol and drug abuse.
“I just went up to Grade 8 and English is my second language. I am uneducated and do not know how to make an appeal, or what case law is,” he said.
“I need help. I am fighting for my life.”
Crown prosecutor Brendan Green said the court shouldn’t consider Mantla’s appeal as his arguments are “devoid of merit.”
“These are wild allegations that have no merit,” said Green. “There is nothing behind them.
“There is no need to appoint counsel to look into them any further.”
‘I didn’t mean to kill the guy’
Mantla killed Lafferty and attempted to kill his former girlfriend on September 28, 2015, stabbing both repeatedly when he broke into the woman’s Yellowknife apartment.
In 2018, aged 39, he was given a life sentence for murdering Lafferty and a 15-year sentence for the attempted murder of the woman, to be served at the same time.
Mantla has secured a legal aid lawyer to appeal his sentence of life in prison, but he also wants to appeal the conviction itself – for which legal aid was not granted.
He maintains he made a jail-cell confession to police on the night he was arrested in September 2015.
“I confessed to RCMP that I didn’t mean to kill the guy,” Mantla said on Monday, alleging another prisoner witnessed his statement and it could have been videotaped by an officer in RCMP holding cells.
Mantla believes that statement would call into question whether he should have been convicted of murder or manslaughter.
“I asked that that evidence be collected. I made a complaint to the Law Society [of the Northwest Territories]. I wasn’t properly represented,” he said.
Mantla repeated his accusation that his first lawyer did not follow his instructions and colluded with the Crown to secure his conviction.
Smallwood asked Mantla is he was prepared to waive solicitor-client privilege so interactions between them could be examined.
Mantla agreed to a partial waiver after receiving advice from his sentence appeal lawyer, Robin Parker, who monitored Monday’s hearing by phone from Toronto.
Mantla repeatedly stated Gladue factors need to be more aggressively applied to his case. The Gladue principle, named for Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, orders judges to consider unique systemic or background factors that may bring an Indigenous offender before the courts and select sentences accordingly.
Mantla also mentioned over-representation of Indigenous offenders in the prison system. That situation made headlines this year when the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr Ivan Zinger, revealed the number and proportion of Indigenous individuals under federal sentence had reached new historic highs.
Parker, noting the “history of complex intergenerational trauma” that applies to Mantla, said the public could perceive Mantla’s appeal application can’t be made fairly if he has no access to legal representation.
Parker suggested the appeal court could allow a lawyer to assist Mantla while not being fully appointed as counsel.
Justice Smallwood said her decision on whether Mantla needs a court-appointed lawyer “comes down to the merit of the appeal” and she reserved her decision until July 2.