Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Montreal February 07, 2018 - 9:45 am

Deceased Nunavik woman expressed “suicidal thoughts,” witness says

Defence lawyer cross-examines key Crown witness in Montreal murder trial

A former cell mate of Kwasi Benjamin, pictured here, said in court yesterday that Benjamin told him the Puvirnituq woman he is accused of killing sometimes expressed suicidal thoughts, though not on the night the woman died. (SVPM PHOTO)
A former cell mate of Kwasi Benjamin, pictured here, said in court yesterday that Benjamin told him the Puvirnituq woman he is accused of killing sometimes expressed suicidal thoughts, though not on the night the woman died. (SVPM PHOTO)

Special to Nunatsiaq News

A key Crown witness testified during cross-examination yesterday that he had been told by the late Nellie Angutiguluk’s boyfriend, Kwasi Benjamin, that she had sometimes expressed suicidal ideas, but that she did not express such thoughts on the night of her death.

Benjamin was with her all that night, so he would have told me if she was suicidal that night, the witness, known only as XY due to a publication ban, told the court.

Benjamin, 32, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Angutiguluk, an Inuk mother of three from Puvirnituq. She was found dead in May 2015 at the Côte-des-Neiges apartment she shared with Benjamin.

XY, as he has been named by the court, was a former cell mate of Benjamin, who was arrested and charged in July 2015.

He said he and Benjamin met briefly while incarcerated and connected by telling each other about why they were in jail.

Although Benjamin’s story about what happened to Angutiguluk on the night of her death raised XY’s suspicions, under cross-examination from defence lawyer Paul Skolnik, XY agreed that it was not a direct confession.

“Let’s get to the heart of the matter,” said Skolnik. “He never told you he killed that girl?”

“He never told me that,” XY said on the second day he appeared as a witness.

Skolnik asked the witness what upset him most in Kwasi’s story.

“That he picked her up, put her in the bed and didn’t call 911 immediately?” Skolnik asked.

“Yes, and that he suspected someone put drugs in her drink and didn’t do nothing,” XY said. “He told me it wouldn’t show if it was a strangulation.”

The defence lawyer showed the jury an interview from November 2015, when XY spoke to police about what Benjamin had told him.

In the interview, XY said that Benjamin had told him Angutiguluk liked to play “dangerous games” with a belt in their closet.

During cross-examination, Skolnik asked the witness repeatedly why he did not use the term “sexual games” in that initial interview, as he did when he testified before Superior Court Justice Michael Stober and the jury on Monday.

XY explained that, to him, “dangerous games” with a ligature meant the same thing as sexual games, and that he did not know why he said it differently on the two occasions.

Skolnik also asked the witness if Benjamin had told him that erotic asphyxiation had occurred on the night Angutiguluk died, or if he had meant she did it in general before that night.

XY confirmed that Benjamin did not say it happened specifically on that night.

During the full day of cross-examination, the jury heard Skolnik ask XY if he remembered his entire criminal history, which consists mainly of theft, robbery, public drunkenness, assault, and breaching probation and conditions. One by one, he listed each charge.

These charges date back to May 1985, and—although they continue up until when he shared a cell with Benjamin in 2015—the majority of the more recent charges after 2010 were for breaching conditions imposed by the court.

For instance, back in 1987, XY pleaded guilty to theft under $1,000 and possession of property obtained from a crime. He did some break-and-enters and stole a car, he said.

“Did you have a drug problem at the time?” Skolnik asked during cross-examination.

“Yes, I had a problem with alcohol—because I was severely beaten up as a child and my parents abandoned me in the city,” XY said.

He testified that he got very bad headaches and, during most of those years, alcohol helped him feel relief from the physical pain and from the emotional trauma of his childhood.

In another example, Skolnik asked XY if he remembered breaking into a Laval home in 1995.

“What did you steal?” Skolnik asked.

A microwave, Skolnik told the jury.

He added that he was the one who reported himself to the police afterward.

When Skolnik asked if his headaches and terrible childhood had created a need for alcohol and drugs that contributed to his crimes, XY said yes.

“They are big wounds,” XY said. “But I haven’t touched drugs other than weed in over 10 years.”

He said he has experienced just two slips since coming out of the prison where he shared a cell with Benjamin.

Benjamin’s trial, which began in mid-January, continues this week at the Montreal courthouse building.

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