“I feel sick.” Sasha Cayen was testifying by video against cousin Levi Cayen, on trial for first-degree murder, when she stood up and ran out of the frame.
With that, NWT Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood excused the jury in the much-delayed trial of Levi, which was in its fifth day at the Yellowknife courthouse.
Covering her face with her hands, Sasha appeared unhappy at being forced to recall the events leading up to the death of Alexander Norwegian, 25, in the early hours of December 27, 2017. The “low-level” drug dealer was found beaten and exposed to the elements in a remote area of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
Despite the witness saying she felt nauseous and providing short, sharp answers to prosecutor Duane Praught’s questions, the jury learned a lot about Sasha, the second key Crown witness to testify this week in the scheduled five-week trial.
In the eight minutes she was on the stand — testifying from another room in the courthouse — the jury found out Sasha is 29 years old, lives with her grandparents in the West Channel neighbourhood of Hay River, and in January 2019, was sentenced to 43 months behind bars for manslaughter in the death of Norwegian. She had pleaded guilty to the charge.
In 2017, Sasha had been working full-time as a secretary for the West Point First Nation for about five years, taking home $850 every two weeks. But most of her money went to supporting her near-daily crack cocaine habit. When she didn’t have money, she would babysit for her friend James Thomas, who was also involved with Norwegian’s demise.
Sasha was one of four people charged in connection with Norwegian’s death. There are temporary publication bans in place regarding the details of their cases.
“And you were still able to maintain a full-time job?” Praught asked Sasha, returning his witness to 2017.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“Did this income allow you to consume crack cocaine almost every day?”
“Did you ever do anything else to obtain crack cocaine?”
Sasha did admit, however, to babysitting for her friend Thomas in exchange for crack — usually one hour for one rock. A gram of crack would go for $100 in the Hay River area in 2017, the jury was told.
Sasha also smoked methamphetamine with Thomas, for about one week, in December 2017.
Praught started to dig for details about Sasha’s “relationships that [she] may have had with some people,” starting with Thomas. That’s when she announced she was ill and might need to vomit.
The accused, Levi, was watching the proceedings remotely from the North Slave Correctional Complex, as he had tested positive earlier in the week for Covid-19. He wore a mask, gloves, and a yellow medical gown.
Earlier on Thursday, another important Crown witness finished his third day on the stand.
Tyler Cayen was sentenced to two years less a day in January 2019 for being an accessory after the fact to manslaughter in the death of Norwegian. He had pleaded guilty.
Tyler, who is 36, said he, Norwegian, Thomas, Sasha and Levi all lived close together on the West Channel of Hay River.
Thomas was Tyler’s cousin and close friend, Sasha was his second cousin and friend who he hung out with regularly, and Levi was his second cousin and friend who he would see a couple times a month.
In December 2017, Tyler was living off of employment insurance, drinking at least a mickey of alcohol daily, and using at least one or two grams of crack cocaine a day which he said cost around $80 per gram. He would buy the crack from Thomas or Thomas’s girlfriend. He would also do renovation work on Thomas’s home or work on his snowmobile, or babysit for crack. He also used meth several times in December 2017 when Thomas didn’t have crack.
Tyler said he has been sober since he was arrested.
Prosecutor Praught asked Tyler about any planning “that may or may not have taken place” once the idea of robbing Norwegian for his stash of drugs was brought up by Thomas.
Speaking very softly, Tyler said he couldn’t recall. He said he did see Thomas holding some rope and a small wooden bat known as a “fish knocker” as he and Levi left the house that night. Tyler and Sasha stayed behind and continued to hang out.
When the pair returned, Tyler said Thomas and Levi appeared “amped up,” and that Levi said they had “roughed up” Norwegian, leaving him in his car.
Thomas asked Tyler to start a fire to burn a plastic bag and his rubber boots. He told the prosecutor he didn’t know why.
Levi decided early the next morning they should take a snowmobile to the Rooster convenience store and call police over a fictitious drunk driver in the same remote area where they had last seen Norwegian.
Praught asked Tyler how he reacted when he learned Norwegian was dead.
‘It was pretty devastating,” he said. “They said he was conscious when they left him.”
Tyler recalled that Levi and Thomas said they saw Norwegian driving forward into a snowbank as they left him.
Levi’s trial continues on Friday, with direct examination of Sasha Cayen scheduled to continue.
Emily Blake contributed reporting.