An NWT murder trial continued on Monday after a publication ban that would have prevented any reporting on the proceedings for at least 10 months was revised.
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 began on the morning of April 19.
At the trial’s outset, Justice Andrew Mahar agreed to a Crown request that reporting on the entire proceeding be barred as publication of those details could bias potential jurors in the trial of co-accused Levi Cayen, scheduled for February 2022.
The CBC challenged the ban. On Friday, Mahar apologized for not giving the Crown’s request “proper consideration” and ordered a less-restrictive prohibition. Now, information from Thomas’s trial can’t be repeated in the 120 days leading up to Cayen’s trial.
Any information that emerged during the earlier trials of Sasha Cayen and Tyler Cayen – who have already been sentenced in connection with Norwegian’s death – cannot be republished to provide fair trials for Thomas and Levi Cayen. The two men are presumed to be innocent.
Thomas’s trial will include testimony from 20 witnesses, including some of the co-accused. All four co-accused are cousins.
The group was socializing on the night of December 26 at Thomas’s house.
On Monday, 33-year-old Tyler Cayen admitted going with Sasha Cayen to search for Norwegian’s drug stash in an area known as Lagoon Road. The two could not find anything after an hour.
Under cross-examination by Ottawa defence lawyer John Hale, Tyler said he had a serious crack cocaine problem at the time.
“Back then, you would do pretty much anything to get your hands on some crack?” asked Hale.
“I wouldn’t say anything, but yeah, hard times then,” replied Tyler, testifying by video.
“And Sasha uses it?”
“And Jimmy Thomas doesn’t use crack?”
‘No plan’ to hurt Norwegian
Hale suggested that when Thomas returned from confronting Norwegian along with Levi, Thomas had appeared upset. Tyler Cayen agreed.
“He said Levi kinda took things too far,” Tyler said of Thomas.
Tyler acknowledged the plan had been not to assault Norwegian but to scare him and rob him of drugs.
“[They were] just going to go and scare Alex, and maybe he and Levi would get whatever drugs Alex had?” asked Hale, with Tyler agreeing.
“There was no plan … openly discussed to hurt him?” asked the lawyer. “Yeah,” said Tyler.
“And you don’t know Jimmy as being a violent person?”
“You [know] deep down that the person who really inflicted the damage and the injuries was Levi? Right?”
“Yeah,” said Tyler, agreeing it was Thomas who ordered Levi to go to a convenience store to call for help for Norwegian on December 27.
With the publication ban lifted from last week’s testimony, the CBC reported that last Wednesday, the RCMP officer in charge of the major crimes unit told the court Norwegian’s frozen body was found in a vehicle on the morning of December 28, 2017.
Sgt Eric Lane said the windows of the Mazda Protege were smashed and it was obvious Norwegian had been attacked.
The trial continues.