“It’s about a robbery, a violent robbery of a young man named Alexander Norwegian,” the prosecutor of a first-degree murder trial told a Yellowknife jury in the city’s largest courtroom on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Duane Praught said the robbery left Alexander Norwegian “injured and alone” and he was found dead on the road more than a day afterward.
Outlining the Crown’s case against Levi Cayen of Hay River, Praught said the victim – a “low-level” drug dealer – died on a bitterly cold December 27, 2017 after being beaten on an isolated road on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
As the 25-year-old victim’s parents looked on from the gallery, on the first day of an expected five-week trial, Praught told the jury to expect a lot of evidence in many forms.
“We expect the evidence will show the accused, Levi Cayen, was an active participant – together with a man named James Thomas – in the robbery, assault, confinement and death of Alexander Norwegian,” said Praught. “The evidence will show that he’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wearing a wrinkled white shirt and dark tie, Cayen sat beside his lawyer. At the start of jury selection on Monday, Cayen pleaded guilty to robbery and not guilty to first-degree murder.
Praught told jury members the evidence will include photographs, videos, maps, written agreements between the Crown and defence, and the testimony of RCMP investigators.
Witnesses will include people who spent time with Norwegian in the days before his death or with the accused immediately before and after the robbery.
“You will also hear from the accused in the form of a videotaped statement [that] he made to the RCMP after his arrest on January 3, 2018,” said Praught.
Cayen was one of four people charged in connection with Norwegian’s death. There are publication bans in place regarding the cases of the others accused.
Justice Shannon Smallwood told the jurors: “You and I are a team. You are the judges of the facts; you decide what the facts of this case are. I am in charge of the law; I will tell you what the law is that applies to this case.
“You should not think [that] because Mr Cayen has pled guilty to robbery, that means he is guilty of first-degree murder. That is not the case. He is presumed innocent to first-degree murder and you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt, after considering all of the evidence, that all of the elements of first-degree murder have been proven by the Crown before you can find Levi Cayen guilty of first-degree murder.”
The day began with the jury losing two female members. One was for personal hardship as her employer wouldn’t pay her and the trial is expected to last five weeks. The other, a post-secondary teacher, couldn’t find anyone to fill in for her.
Two alternate jurors selected on Monday took their places. There are 14 jurors left, two more than is standard practice in the NWT. During the jury selection process held at the Multiplex gymnasium, Justice Smallwood decided two extra jurors were necessary because of the chance one or more could come down with Covid-19. When the evidence has been heard, the panel of 12 to deliberate will be chosen by random draw.
This is one of the few jury trials in the NWT since the pandemic started two years ago.