Fort Smith second-degree murder trial begins
Covered in blood and his eye bruised, Wilfred Abraham said he “wanted to kill him” and “I guess I’ll hang for this,” a healthcare provider testified at a second-degree murder trial in Yellowknife on Wednesday.
After being brought, handcuffed, to the Fort Smith Health Centre by RCMP from a crime scene on August 13, 2018 – where Ralph Sifton, 48, lay dead – a noticeably intoxicated Abraham asked if “he was dead,” a judge-only Supreme Court trial heard.
“There were some inaudible things he was mumbling about, but he said to me … ‘I hope he’s [expletive] dead, I wanted to kill him,’” the healthcare provider testified, under examination by Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane.
The healthcare provider, whose identity is protected by a Crown-requested publication ban, said a somewhat belligerent Abraham, 55, had been placed in a wheelchair to be taken for a head X-ray.
The witness then recalled Abraham saying: “I guess I’ll hang for this.”
The unusual publication ban request was made after Crown witness coordinator Michelle Lewis “expressed concern for the safety of the witness.”
Keeping the witness’s identity hidden “would promote the societal interest in reporting of offences and the participation of witnesses in the criminal justice process,” stated the Crown.
Testifying via video from outside the NWT, the healthcare provider admitted only telling an RCMP officer about Abraham’s utterances in a later official interview. The provider didn’t enter the remarks into the medical report on the night of the incident.
“I’m very certain and sure of the words, but I couldn’t remember what order they were in,” said the healthcare provider.
The healthcare provider also admitted, under cross-examination by defence lawyer Austin Corbett, that the apparent confession came at the tail end of the August 16, 2018 police interview – after the interview appeared to have ended and the recording had been briefly turned off.
“The reason you didn’t tell the officer earlier … is that you really weren’t sure of what Mr.Abraham had said that night, correct?” Corbett asked.
The healthcare provider said they were only responding to the officer asking if they had anything else to say, and the interview had been focused on the medical procedure until that point.
Part of that procedure involved removing Abraham’s clothing to inspect him for injuries. When his shirt was pulled up, it was noticed he had wounds from a Taser on his back, the court heard.
Under examination by Crown prosecutor Brendan Green later on Wednesday, RCMP Cpl Mike Buckland testified his partner was forced to Taser a non-compliant Abraham. Buckland said Abraham had refused to obey commands to lay completely face down on the ground in the darkened rear yard of a house in the town shortly after 11pm.
In the glow of a flashlight, Sifton’s body could be seen on a blood-stained carpet. The two officers wanted to gain control of the scene to which they had been called, said Buckland.
With his duty weapon drawn – at a “low-ready” 45-degree angle downward – the officer provided lethal cover for his partner, who had trained the Taser at Abraham.
“We believed the victim was dead or seriously injured,” said Buckland, noting the Taser was effective in getting Abraham to the ground, where he was handcuffed.
A knife had been noticed clipped to Abraham’s belt before he went prone, and it was on the ground afterward, the officer testified.
An apparently intoxicated Abraham told the officers he had been kicked in the face and stabbed.
The healthcare worker had earlier testified the dead man arrived at hospital with a pair of work boots on. Buckland said he could find no pulse on Sifton. He noticed the man had a large cut on his head and his hair was soaked with blood. His chest and stomach area seemed to be “caved” inward.
The owner of the house was also at the scene and was interviewed, along with other potential witnesses.
Ralph Sifton is seen in a photo uploaded to Facebook.
Buckland testified he knew Abraham from several previous interactions while on duty. The man had been both intoxicated and sober during the encounters. He had never been aggressive.
Buckland testified Abraham said nothing while being transported to hospital in the rear of the police vehicle.
The second-degree murder trial began on Tuesday and will move to Fort Smith next week. More than a dozen witnesses are scheduled to testify in the community.
Abraham is in custody and will be flown to Fort Smith on Monday, the same day the court party should arrive.
Sifton’s death prompted messages of condolence on a commemorative Facebook page. A wake was scheduled for August 28, 2018 and he was laid to rest the following day.
Sifton, who was originally from Uranium City, Saskatchewan, graduated from Thebacha College in 1992.