Warning: This report contains details from a murder trial, as heard in court, that readers may find disturbing.
Wilfred Abraham is a “violent criminal” whose manslaughter conviction requires a penitentiary sentence and a lengthy period of probation, a judge ruled on Tuesday afternoon.
NWT Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar sentenced the 56-year-old Fort Smith man to five years and nine months, to be followed by three years’ probation, for killing his nephew, Ralph Sifton, in 2018.
After deducting his significant pre-trial remand credit, Abraham’s sentence equalled exactly two years in a federal penitentiary.
“He is a serious recidivist when it comes to drinking and acting with violence,” said Mahar. “This is by far the most violent he’s ever been, but this was not unpredictable. This was not out of character for Mr Abraham.
“Losing his temper in a rage when drinking is entirely in character for Mr Abraham. I’m sympathetic to his struggles, but the court has to be mindful … to the protection of the public when dealing with a violent criminal.”
Mahar had to pause reading his decision when Sifton’s daughter, Cheryl Fabian, began to sob in the public gallery behind the Crown prosecutors.
Comforted by friends and a victim services worker, Fabian called out to the judge at the end of the hearing.
“I would like an apology for me and my sister,” she said, as Abraham kept looking toward the judge. Mahar said the man had apologized to her family and all involved on the previous day, after the lawyers had presented their sentencing arguments.
On Monday, Crown prosecutor Morgan Fane had called for a seven-year federal sentence while defence lawyer Austin Corbett argued for a four-year term followed by probation.
Mahar said he struggled with balancing what Abraham said on the night of August 13, 2018, with his actions.
Abraham used a five-pound hand-weight to cause the massive skull fractures that killed his 48-year-old nephew and acknowledged he had not acted in self-defence. The two men were standing when the blow came.
Abraham said he was “enraged” as his nephew had a short time earlier kicked him in the face with a steel-toed workboot as he lay drunk on a couch in a back yard. Both men were homeless at the time.
When the unconscious Sifton was on the ground, Abraham screamed at him more than 100 times to “get up” to fight. Abraham later told a healthcare worker he had wanted to kill Sifton.
Abraham, when he drinks, “is a loud, aggressive, shouting-nonsense drunk,” said the judge, noting it was clear he intended to seriously hurt Sifton. “The things he said that night and the things he did were at odds with each other. As he sobered, his remorse became clear.
“There was no indication Mr Abraham was actually trying to kill Mr Sifton at all. The things he said were horrendous.”
‘No undoing this’
Mahar noted Abraham is a member of the Salt River First Nation and, as required by law, he took his Indigenous heritage into consideration.
While Abraham experienced loss and emotional hardship in his early life, his upbringing was not as troubling as other cases before the court.
But courts are also required to take into account “the social construct that has been damaged by generational trauma as a result of the colonial experience,” said Mahar.
Abraham’s criminal record stretches over 35 years and fills four pages, the judge noted.
“This case does call out for denunciation,” he said, adding he isn’t convinced Abraham will be able to be rehabilitated.
“Being intoxicated is not an excuse. Somebody who has been consistently aggressive – and occasionally violent – when drinking carries that burden with them when [they make] the decision to drink.”
Abraham will be prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol while on probation. Mahar said he realized he was dealing with a chronic alcoholic, but that it would be “too dangerous to let him drink.”
The judge made the unusual order to “urge probation services to use some discretion” and to understand they are dealing with a chronic alcoholic. If he does drink, he is to immediately tell his probation officer and then report daily. Otherwise, he could risk a violation of his probation.
Officials are to assist Abraham with his request to serve his time in Edmonton, where his son lives, who is willing to take him in when he is released.
He will have to submit a DNA sample to the national crime databank and is barred from owning firearms for 10 years. He can apply for a sustenance exemption, which would likely be hard for him to obtain with his record.
“Mr Abraham, there’s no undoing this, you know that,” said the judge.
“Maybe the most important thing you can do, to honour Ralph, is to never put yourself in a position where you are able to act out like this again. You owe him that much.”