Wilfred Abraham was “agitated and provoked” when he killed Ralph Sifton in 2018 but did not intend to murder the Fort Smith man, a Supreme Court judge has ruled.
Sifton’s family listened by phone from Fort Smith on Thursday. Relatives could be heard reacting emotionally as Justice Andrew Mahar delivered his verdict of manslaughter in a Yellowknife courtroom.
“This is another tragic event that the court has to deal with that springs from addictions and trauma,” said Mahar as Abraham, 55, sat silently before him.
Abraham’s earlier admission of manslaughter was rejected by the Crown, which decided to proceed to trial for second-degree murder.
Ralph Sifton is seen in a photo uploaded to Facebook.
Abraham had admitted using a five-pound hand-weight to cause the injuries that killed his relative Sifton, 48, on August 13, 2018, and acknowledged he had not acted in self-defence.
Rather, said Mahar, the homeless man was “enraged” as Sifton had – a short time earlier – kicked Abraham in the face with a steel-toed workboot as he lay drunk on a couch in a backyard.
“The question is whether Mr Abraham had the necessary intention to render this an act of murder, rather than manslaughter,” said Mahar.
The judge presented facts from the extended trial, which started on September 9 and took place in both Yellowknife and Fort Smith.
Witnesses testified they heard an argument between two men in a dark yard of a house.
“Two loud voices were heard, and eventually only one voice was heard – Mr Abraham’s,” said Mahar.
Sifton was struck with the weight at least four times – one blow, fracturing the back of his skull, likely proving fatal.
Witnesses told Abraham to stop beating Sifton with his hands as he lay motionless on the ground. Abraham was said to have yelled at least 100 times for his victim to “get up.”
After Abraham was arrested, he continued to make threats against Sifton. Among those, he was heard stating he “wanted to kill him” and “was happy he was dead.”
Mahar said the use of a hand-weight as a weapon, as opposed to a knife or a gun, “isn’t inherently lethal” and was akin to being assaulted with a steel-toed boot.
The fact Abraham stopped using the weight and switched to his fists also shows his level of intent to kill the man, said the judge.
“He did not appreciate how badly Ralph Sifton was injured and … he did not want to kill him, which he could easily have done while he was lying there. Rather he wanted him to get up so he could continue fighting with him,” said Mahar.
“Wilfred Abraham wanted to give Ralph Sifton a beating in return for the kick in the face. He did not want to kill him. Nor did he want to injure him in a likely way that would [cause] his death.
“I thereby find Wilfred Abraham guilty of manslaughter.”
‘Upper level’ of intoxication
Defence lawyer Austin Corbett requested that a pre-sentence report with a section on his client’s upbringing and family heritage – known as Gladue factors – be prepared prior to the next court date, set for November 30.
Abraham has a lengthy criminal record. Manslaughter carries no minimum sentence, except when it is committed with a firearm. The maximum penalty is life in prison.
In his final arguments on September 24, Corbett stated Abraham “was at the upper level of advanced intoxication … such that there was no foresight of the consequences.”
Over the course of the trial, the court heard Abraham was a chronic alcoholic whose addiction was well-known in the town of some 2,500 people.
On the day of Sifton’s killing, Abraham had been seen around the community in a “dazed stupor,” yelling at people, riding his bicycle in an erratic manner, and drinking from bottles of 20-percent fortified Private Stock wine.
The court heard Abraham and Sifton had been seen earlier in the day drinking amicably together. By 6pm, Abraham was alone, yelling and swearing at people outside a bank.
At 10:30pm, he tried to enter the homeless shelter but was turned away. He went to lay down on a couch in a nearby yard.
After he was kicked in the head by Sifton, Abraham returned to the shelter to retrieve his belongings, where it was noticed he had an injury to his head.
Returning to the yard shortly after 11pm – it was dark, with no lights in the vicinity – Abraham confronted Sifton and started attacking him.
When police arrived, they encountered a blood-covered Abraham and were forced to Taser him when he refused to lay on the ground to be handcuffed.
Taken to the Fort Smith Health Centre by RCMP, Abraham said to a healthcare worker: “I hope he’s dead, I wanted to kill him.”
The healthcare worker testified Abraham said: “I guess I’ll hang for this.”
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.