An NWT Supreme Court justice has banned the publication of all details in a murder trial, saying it could taint the jury pool in the future trial of a co-accused.
James George Thomas, 27, is charged with first-degree murder and robbery in the 2017 death of Alexander Norwegian, 25, in the Hay River area. Thomas’s five-week trial by judge alone, initially postponed due to Covid-19 concerns, began on Monday morning.
In an unusual development, Justice Andrew Mahar imposed a publication ban on the entire proceeding – including the testimony of witnesses and any other evidence – ruling that publication of those details could bias potential jurors in the trial of Levi Cayen.
“Given the grave concern of the possibility of tainting the jury pool, I am left with no choice but to make that publication ban,” Mahar said, as members of Norwegian’s family sat in the public gallery.
Cayen, 22, is set to face a jury trial in February 2022 on charges of robbery and murder related to the death of Norwegian.
Crown prosecutor Duane Praught has asked for the publication ban on Thomas’s murder trial to remain in place until Cayen’s trial concludes.
Thomas and Cayen are two of four cousins charged in connection with Norwegian’s death.
Sasha Cayen, 26, was sentenced to three years and seven months in January 2019 after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Tyler Cayen, 33, was sentenced to two years less a day in January 2019 after pleading guilty to accessory after the fact to manslaughter.
Any information that emerged during the trials of Sasha and Tyler Cayen cannot be republished to provide fair trials for Thomas and Levi Cayen. The two men are presumed to be innocent.
Levi Cayen had requested that 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.
However, Justice Shannon Smallwood denied that request in January.
She noted that while NWT jury trials have been traditionally held in the community where an offence was committed, that tradition has evolved for reasons such as difficulty finding unbiased, available jurors in smaller communities, and legal concerns over delays in proceedings.