A murder charge related to a death at a downtown Yellowknife sobering centre has been downgraded to assault causing bodily harm after new evidence was received from the coroner’s office.
Jerry Akoak’s passing earlier this year at the 50 Street facility is no longer considered a homicide. Medical evidence now suggests he died of acute alcohol poisoning, not as the result of an earlier altercation with Morin Nitsiza.
“Mr Nitsiza assaulted Mr Akoak, [who] died overnight. He was initially charged with murder and then manslaughter,” Crown prosecutor Brendan Green told Cabin Radio. “When the medical examiner’s report came back, the conclusion was that Mr Akoak had died of acute alcohol toxicity and that the assault had not caused or contributed to his death.”
Court documents show Nitsiza, 29, has an extensive criminal record, including one count of aggravated assault in 2018 in connection with a double stabbing in front of Yellowknife City Hall the year prior.
Nitsiza was sentenced on Wednesday to one year in custody for the assault, to be followed by one year of supervised probation.
Defence lawyer Mallorie Malone said her client’s remand credit means his time was served and he would be promptly released.
Jerry Akoak, who was 38 when he passed away, moved to Yellowknife from the Nunavut community of Gjoa Haven in December 2019 “to start a new life” according to his social media posts at the time.
He became a member of the city’s street community and enjoyed working as a casual labourer at Clean Sweep, a temporary employment service for individuals experiencing homelessness or underemployment.
Police were called to the sobering centre at around 7:30am on January 8. In a subsequent news release, a spokesperson stated the centre itself was “not a factor” in his death, which occurred following an altercation nearby.
His was not the first death reported at or near the facility, which opened in 2018.
In September 2019, Mark Poodlat was killed on the sidewalk outside the centre’s door during a drunken altercation. Victor Shane Ugyuk was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for manslaughter.