NWT judge dismisses publication ban in accessory to murder case
An NWT Supreme Court judge dismissed a bid to ban publication of details in a case where two people were sentenced as accessories after the fact to murder in the death of 22-year-old Breanna Menacho.
Jordan Nande, 24, and 21-year-old Lisa Brule pleaded guilty last week to the charge. They admitted helping Devon Larabie, 27 – who is charged with murdering Menacho – to evade authorities.
Nande and Brule were each sentenced to 10 months in jail and two years’ probation.
Larabie has yet to enter a plea to the murder charge. If his case goes to trial, it’s expected to be heard by a judge and jury in Yellowknife.
Reporters were already able to publish Nande and Brule’s conviction and sentence. Thursday’s decision allows news outlets to report an agreed statement of facts that was previously subject to a temporary publication ban.
The Crown and Larabie’s lawyer had sought to seal the statement of facts until Larabie’s court proceedings are over. The CBC opposed that bid.
Prosecutor Blair MacPherson had argued that if the facts were published, they could prejudice potential jurors and infringe on Larabie’s right to a fair trial.
Tess Layton, representing the CBC, said the prosecution’s argument lacked evidence. She argued MacPherson hadn’t proven a ban was the only way to ensure Larabie’s right to a fair trial, which is a legal requirement before such a ban can be granted.
In a written judgement issued on Thursday, Justice Karan Shaner said while the details of the case were “disturbing to say the least,” she agreed with Layton and the CBC.
“The contention that the minds of potential jurors will be so poisoned by the contents of the [statement of facts] that it will be too difficult to select an impartial jury is entirely speculative,” Shaner wrote, saying the argument lacked “evidentiary foundation.”
“The importance of the open court principle in a free and democratic society cannot be underestimated,” the judge added. “It is a key element in holding the administration of justice accountable to justice system participants and the public at large.”
The facts of the case
While accessory to murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, Shaner said a sentence of nine to 12 months was “reasonable” for Nande and Brule because of the facts of their case. Those facts can now be reported for the first time.
According to the statement of facts, which was agreed on by the prosecution and defence, the pair were among six people in Larabie’s Yellowknife apartment on the night of May 5, when Menacho was killed.
Nande and Brule allege that after Larabie killed Menacho, he told everyone to stay in the apartment, but three people escaped.
Nande and Brule say Larabie then told them to remove their clothes and take a shower, which they did. Larabie took their clothes and gave Nande the murder weapon to dispose of, the facts state, which he put in a bag.
Brule, who was dating and living with Larabie at the time, suggested they use bleach to clean up the crime scene.
The trio then left the Lanky Court apartment and headed to the Sunridge Apartments. Larabie climbed the balcony of a friend’s apartment but she refused to let him in, describing him as being “nervous and frantic.”
Larabie returned to his apartment while Nande and Brule spent the night at another apartment.
The next day, Nande and Brule met Larabie at a grocery store. There, they discussed taking a blood-stained couch and other evidence to a location outside Yellowknife and burning them.
Nande phoned a friend and asked to borrow a pickup truck to move the couch and a freezer.
That friend helped the trio move a section of the couch from Larabie’s apartment to his truck but said he “felt something was not right.” When he saw what appeared to be blood, the man snuck away to the RCMP detachment where he reported the incident.
Officers subsequently swarmed Larabie’s apartment, where they discovered Menacho’s body and the murder weapon. They arrested Larabie, Nande and Brule.
While Nande and Brule were initially “evasive and uncooperative,” within 24 hours they gave statements implicating themselves and Larabie.
Police charged Larabie with murder while Nande and Brule were released. The pair were rearrested on May 13 and charged with being accessories after the fact.
Nande was threatened, says lawyer
Prosecutor MacPherson said while Nande and Brule played a “big role” in attempting to clean up the crime scene, their participation did not go far beyond the planning stages.
He added that they are not accused of assisting in killing Menacho, having any prior knowledge that she would be killed, or of handling her body.
Defence lawyer Jay Bran said Larabie had threatened to kill Nande, his client, if he went to the police. Bran said Nande continued to help Larabie even after they split up because he was afraid Larabie would follow through on that threat.
Brule’s lawyer, Peter Harte, said his client thought Larabie was going to kill her on May 5. Brule claimed Larabie told her he had almost killed everyone in the apartment that night.
Harte said Brule doesn’t have an explanation for why she continued to help Larabie, other than she didn’t know what to do.
The agreed statement of facts includes a range of allegations regarding the manner in which Menacho was killed.
Cabin Radio has decided not to publish those details as they are graphic in nature and Larabie has not yet responded to the allegations in court.
A preliminary inquiry – a hearing where a judge determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial – has been scheduled in Larabie’s case for June 22, 2021.