Nora Wedzin stood in court on Tuesday, looked at the man who killed her brother, Archie, and told him how the events of April 8, 2019, had devastated her life.
As Alecus Quitte hung his head at the defence table – hours before he would be sentenced to six and a half years for manslaughter – the Behchokǫ̀ woman told Quitte she lives in fear and even worries he might come after her next.
“Alecus, to you … I can’t even speak to you about how I miss my brother so much. It’s very painful. He’s gone, you took my brother away from me,” Wedzin said through tears in front of a full Supreme Court public gallery in Yellowknife.
“I want it to be a dream and I want … that my brother was not murdered. You had a chance to walk away. You stabbed him once and it was not enough for you, so you stabbed him again, to death.
“I always think: What was my brother thinking? What was he thinking when you stabbed him? He died without family around. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to him.”
Many people in the room had travelled from Behchokǫ̀ and gentle sobs could be heard throughout as Wedzin spoke.
Quitte, 23, of Gamètì, was originally charged with murder in the death of 59-year-old Wedzin, which took place during an early-morning argument fuelled by alcohol and drugs.
Quitte later made an agreement with the Crown to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Wedzin remembered her brother as a kind-hearted person who was always there for her and his entire family.
“I never … imagined a family member would get murdered. I always thought I was safe living in Behchokǫ̀,” she said. “Since my brother Archie was taken from me I don’t trust anybody, especially if they are under the influence of alcohol or they appear drunk.
“I cried almost every day … he lived three doors away from my house … my Archie, I miss him so much. I want to see him and talk to him about my problems.”
She said she will try to forgive Quitte, eventually, as she knows it is what her brother would have wanted.
Wedzin’s was one of four victim impact statements the court heard or read. One was submitted by Wedzin’s mother, Julie, through a Tłı̨chǫ interpreter.
Archie Wedzin was father to six daughters and two sons. One of his daughters, Glenda Apples, had a victim services support worker read her statement in court as she wiped away tears in her seat nearby.
Apples’ statement explained how Wedzin had protected her and his grandchildren. He helped her financially and emotionally. He also helped her with repairs around the house.
“I was very close to my dad – I’m too scared to get close to others – I talked through my problems with him,” her statement read. “I used to confide in my dad. He’s not here to help me now.”
She gets migraines, feels angry, and overwhelmed, her statement said. She has started drinking again. When she needs to, she replays a video she has of her father in which he’s laughing.
Her father was very kind-hearted, helped others in need, and took people in when they had no other place to go. “Including Alecus and Nicole – I wish he didn’t.”
What happened that night
Crown prosecutor Alex Godfrey told the court on the night of April 7, 2019, Alecus Quitte and his girlfriend Nicole Drybones went to Wedzin’s house in Behchokǫ̀ where they drank vodka and smoked crack cocaine into the early hours of the next day.
The court had been told alcohol and drugs featured prominently in their relationship. At one point during the evening, Quitte and Drybones started to argue, with Quitte being asked to leave.
He did, but returned a short while later and was allowed back in.
Wedzin and Drybones refused to share vodka with Quitte, which led to a second argument. Wedzin and Drybones, sitting together, threatened to kick Quitte out again, but he refused.
“The argument escalated into a physical confrontation between Mr Quitte and Mr Wedzin,” said the prosecutor. “Mr Quitte stabbed Mr Wedzin two times in the neck area with a knife.”
Wedzin tried to leave through the front door, but Quitte pulled him back inside. Quitte and Drybones tried unsuccessfully to stop the bleeding from a deep gash in Wedzin’s neck. A second cut wasn’t life-threatening. They then tried to clean up the room.
After washing his hands, Quitte pulled a piece of cardboard Wedzin used as a doormat over some bloody footprints. Cushions on a sofa were pulled over pooled blood.
Quitte discarded the knife and the pair disposed of the clothes they were wearing. None of those objects were ever found by investigators.
Both Quitte and Drybones were separately interviewed after the discovery of Wedzin’s body. Both told RCMP on April 11, 2019, that they had been with Wedzin, but stated they left in the early morning hours and only learned of his death later that day.
However, police interviewed Drybones again on May 9, 2019, when she changed her story, stating Quitte had stabbed Wedzin. Quitte was arrested on May 14, was played portions of his girlfriend’s statement and shown other evidence, and he confessed to stabbing the older man.
Drybones was not charged with any crime.
“Mr Quitte maintained he did not intend to kill Mr Wedzin, that it was an accident, and he was defending himself,” said the prosecutor, noting the guilty plea negated the need for a trial where witnesses would have to be called.
‘I truly am sorry’
While sentencing Quitte to six and a half years in prison later in the day, Supreme Court Chief Justice Louise Charbonneau told the gallery the fact Quitte fully admitted to the crime and pleaded guilty to manslaughter proves without any doubt he committed the crime.
The judge noted she had read and heard comments emanating from the community throughout the various legal proceedings that seemed to call into question the sincerity of Quitte’s guilty plea.
“[Today] can and should put an end to any lingering rumours or doubts about what happened that day … some people do not believe Mr Quitte did this,” said Charbonneau. “I want to make this very clear, and let there be no doubt, he has admitted the facts, he has taken responsibility, for what he did … he has apologized to a courtroom full of people for what he did.
“After today, there should be no lingering rumour or doubt that he is the one who killed Mr Wedzin. If there is ever to be any healing from these terrible events … accepting the truth is a necessary step.”
When he was asked to speak, Quitte stood and – dressed in a grey dress shirt and jeans – spoke directly to Wedzin’s family.
“I truly am sorry, from the bottom of my heart, for the pain I have caused the community of Behchokǫ̀ and Archie’s family,” he said, his voice raw with emotion. “I promise I am going to live a better and healthier lifestyle … I don’t want my son growing up without me. I don’t want his only impression of me is to be in jail.”
Quitte was referring to a five-year-old son he has from an earlier relationship.
He continued: “I want to make things right. I’m not a bad guy, I just have bad addictions. Whatever sentence you give me, I’m ready to take my punishment. I’m going to spend the rest of my life being sorry.”
During a subsequent break in proceedings, the sheriffs allowed Quitte’s mother and sister to get near enough for a short, tearful hug. “I’ll be back home again,” Quitte could be heard saying.
Sentence ‘not unreasonable’
While explaining her reasons for accepting the joint recommendation, Charbonneau noted she is bound to do so unless the sentence is far too lenient or harsh. She noted six and a half years for this type of stabbing death is “not unreasonable,” and said courts must, by law, take into consideration a person’s Indigenous heritage when sentencing.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran noted Quitte wasn’t raised by his biological parents, but two “loving family members who raised him as if he was their own child.” He started drinking at the age of 12, then progressed to cannabis and ended up being a daily crack user.
Charbonneau said Quitte’s criminal record includes two assault convictions for domestic violence – including one against Drybones – but no previous manslaughters or murders.
Quitte was five days short of two years of remand custody credit, so will have that deducted from his sentence. He will also have to supply a sample to the national DNA crime databank and be prohibited from possessing a firearm for 10 years, though a sustenance exemption can be sought.
He hopes to be able to serve his sentence in the North, but that will be subject to available programming.
“There is nothing you can do to change what happened, but you can be true to the words you spoke this morning,” Charbonneau said to Quitte before adjourning court.
“You said you want to live a clean and sober life … I hope that you come back from your sentence and live a clean and healthy lifestyle and contribute to your community in a positive way.”