Kwasi Benjamin guilty of 2nd-degree murder in death of Nellie Angutiguluk
Montreal jury delivers verdict after two full days of deliberation
Special to Nunatsiaq News
(Updated Feb. 28, 4:10 p.m.)
MONTREAL—Near the end of a second full day of deliberations, a six-woman, six-man jury has found Kwasi Benjamin guilty of second-degree murder in the May 2015 death of Nellie Angutiguluk, 29, of Puvirnituq.
That offence carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no eligibility for parole for at least 10 years. It’s not yet clear how long Benjamin must serve before he may apply for parole, but a sentencing date has been set for April 4.
Benjamin, wearing a blue coat over a T-shirt, frowned when he heard the verdict. He showed emotion for the first time during the trial.
When the jury adjourned to discuss a recommendation for length of parole ineligibility, Benjamin spoke aggressively to his lawyer Paul Skolnik about how he didn’t do it.
Skolnik said afterward that he’s disappointed by the verdict but respects the process. He says he believes there was enough evidence to support the idea that Angutiguluk died by suicide and that Benjamin might appeal.
Crown prosecutor Dennis Galiatsatos and the lead investigator said they’re pleased with the verdict.
“I was extremely impressed with the quality and the detail and the exhaustiveness of the Montreal police department’s investigation,” Galiatsatos said.
“This file—not so much in the result, but in the efforts put in by the police force and by the Crown’s office—will show that there is hope. That the system does work.”
Angutiguluk had moved to Montreal from Puvirnituq in 2013, leaving behind her mother and three kids in the care of family, but was found dead in bed at the apartment she lived in with Benjamin.
Before delivering that verdict, the jury had asked questions on the legal definitions of “rage,” “culpability” and “manslaughter.”
The six-woman, six-man jury began deliberations Monday, Feb. 26.
An autopsy reported her cause of death as ligature strangulation. However, the defence team, led by Paul Skolnik, argued that it could have been a suicide.
“There is no legal definition of rage,” Superior Court Justice Michael Stober said in response to one question from the jury on Wednesday morning, Feb. 28.
Galiatsatos had asked while the jury was out that Stober say in his answer that rage is not a defence.
But it was overruled, and the jury was told only that if they have any other more specific questions on rage, to write another note.
Stober then told the jurors the legal definition of the word “culpability” is “attracting criminal responsibility,” and shared some examples of two scenarios to illustrate culpable homicide and non-culpable homicide.
Manslaughter involves the question of intent, Stober said.
He reminded the jurors of the two types of intent: when the person who caused the death meant to cause their death, or meant to cause bodily harm recklessly that is likely to cause death.
“If neither, then you must find him not guilty of second-degree homicide and guilty of manslaughter,” Stober said.
Domestic violence evidence not heard by jury
While Benjamin has pleaded not guilty and has testified in his defence that Angutiguluk may taken her own life, he has a criminal history of assault and aggravated assault toward Angutiguluk, as well as breach of conditions concerning her throughout the length of their relationship.
The jury was not permitted to hear any of this as evidence during the trial, except evidence that Benjamin had been jailed in the weeks before her death for unspecified reasons.
The judge had ruled out all the other information as too prejudicial.
Stober told the jurors that the reason for this arrest was insignificant to their deliberations when the jury sent a note asking why he had been in jail.
And when police officers were called to testify during the trial they were asked, when the jury was not present, to not mention Benjamin’s arrests or past assault charges.
However, Benjamin was likely in breach of his bail conditions simply by being in her presence on the night of her death.The jury did not hear this.
On Jan. 4 2014, Benjamin was charged with aggravated assault on Angutiguluk in Montreal, but the charge was withdrawn in December of that year.
On Jan. 15, 2014, he was charged with four counts of breaching conditions, three of which involved staying away from Angutiguluk.
On Feb. 1, 2014, he was charged with breaching conditions that he not communicate with her or be in her physical presence.
Another charge against him that is still pending is related to an incident alleged to have occurred less than two weeks before Angutiguluk’s death.
On May 9, 2015, he was charged with assaulting her and was released on bail with a condition to attend a court date four months later.
His conditions also included not communicating with or being in the physical presence of Angutiguluk, and to abstain from alcohol.
Throughout the trial, the Crown and defence referred to this as “the Dorval incident” because it took place at a Dorval bar.
The jury heard parts of what happened that night—their fight, what it was about, who they were with and what they had to drink—but not that Benjamin was charged with assault on Angutiguluk that night, spent three days in jail and was subsequently released on bail with conditions to not be in her presence.
The jury heard mainly how the victim had been aggressive to Benjamin on that night and during their other fights.
The defence lawyer argued Benjamin was a victim of violence, while leaving out the domestic violence history of his client.
Benjamin was released from jail on May 15. A few days later, Angutiguluk was dead.
The jury was sequestered at 2:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon to deliberate on the information that the court did hear.