Kevin Mantla’s “education, cognitive abilities, and challenges,” combined with his lack of means, warrant assistance from a court-appointed lawyer, a judge ruled on Friday.
Mantla had requested the lawyer in order to determine if he has any grounds to appeal his convictions for second-degree murder and attempted murder.
In providing the Gamètì man a lawyer, NWT Court of Appeal Justice Shannon Smallwood gave him a partial victory in his quest to appeal his convictions, though she wasn’t impressed with the content of his original, handwritten notice of appeal filed last month.
“I accept that Mr Mantla does not read English well and does not have the ability to understand the law,” Smallwood stated in a Friday afternoon hearing, as her words were interpreted into Tłı̨chǫ for Mantla.
“He suffers from cognitive deficiencies as a result of extensive drug and alcohol use. I accept that Mr Mantla does not have the ability to advance his grievances of the appeal.
“[But he raised] issues often seen on inmate appeals that are not often successful. Some bordered on conspiracy theories.”
Smallwood determined that as Mantla raised concerns with how his original lawyer handled his case – and some limited waiver of solicitor-client privilege was needed – a court-appointed lawyer was required to help navigate those legal issues.
She told Mantla, appearing by video from the maximum-security Edmonton Institution, that the lawyer would only be appointed with “the limited purpose to determine if [the] appeal has merit.”
The grounds for appeal
Mantla previously told the court he 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.
Mantla, convicted of murdering Lafferty at a Yellowknife apartment in September 2015, said he has exhausted all other means of finding a private or publicly funded lawyer to appeal his conviction.
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 with no chance of parole for 20 years 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 told Smallwood in June, 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.
Edmonton lawyer Kent Teskey, representing Mantla’s original trial lawyer, told the court on Friday that such a statement does not exist in evidence given to the defence by the Crown.
“There is no record in the disclosure he had ever said that,” said Teskey. “The only other person in the cell [with Mantla) would have been an undercover officer.”
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.
However, Smallwood noted on Friday that the Gladue factors only apply to sentencing, not to the determination of guilt or innocence.
Toronto lawyer Robin Parker, already working on Mantla’s sentence appeal, joined Friday’s hearing over the phone and said she will work with the NWT Legal Aid Commission to determine the next steps.
A return date was set for August 10.