Levi Cayen will be tried for murder and robbery in Yellowknife after a judge refused his request for the venue to be changed to his home town of Hay River.
Cayen, 22 at the time, was arrested with three others in January 2018 after Alex Norwegian’s body was found in the Sandy Creek Road area of Hay River.
Cayen had requested his trial be held in Hay River. His Edmonton lawyer, Alan Regel, argued there was a greater risk of pre-trial publicity contaminating potential jurors in Yellowknife than in Hay River.
“He also believes having a jury that understands the geography of Hay River would outweigh the harm arising from any additional delay that might result,” said Justice Shannon Smallwood on Friday afternoon.
Smallwood noted the NWT tradition is to hold jury trials in the community where an offence was committed.
However, that tradition has evolved for reasons such as difficulty finding unbiased, available jurors, and legal concerns over delays in proceedings.
Under the current Covid-19 public health orders, the only suitable venue for a jury trial would be in the Hay River community arena when it has no ice installed, between May and September.
The trial is estimated to take between eight to 10 weeks, which is a “significant period of time to ask a person to sit on a jury” in a community of Hay River’s size, said Smallwood.
Knowledge of the area geography is not something a juror need have beforehand, she added.
“The prospect of holding a 10-week jury trial over the summer – this summer – is unrealistic, at best,” the judge said. “The application to change the venue of this trial is dismissed. The rial will proceed in Yellowknife at the earliest available opportunity.”
Jury trials in Yellowknife are being held under pandemic protocols in a large conference hall in the Explorer Hotel.
Smallwood also rejected Cayen’s application to exclude statements made to RCMP after he was arrested, although some editing of statements must be agreed to by the Crown and defence before they are presented at trial.
Cayen was similarly unsuccessful in having related search warrants tossed.
The trial was supposed to have taken place last year but was cancelled after Cayen fired his original lawyer.
He was charged with three of his cousins – Sasha Cayen, 26, Tyler Cayen, 33, and James George Thomas, 27.
Thomas was committed to stand trial last year after a preliminary inquiry. Initially postponed due to Covid-19 concerns, that trial is now scheduled to start on April 19 and take five weeks.
Tyler Cayen was sentenced to two years less a day in January 2019 after pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
Sasha Cayen was sentenced to three years and seven months in January 2019 after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Any information that emerged during those two trials can’t be reprinted now in order to provide fair trials for the two men. They are presumed to be innocent.
Cayen’s next court appearance will be in a pre-trial conference on March 12.