Kuujjuaq jury delivers guilty verdict in brutal sexual assault

Seven years, and possible dangerous offender status, for Sammy Shennungnuk


KUUJJUAQ — A Kuujjuaq man with a history of violent and sexual offences is heading back to prison again, after a jury found him guilty of sexual assault last week.

On Feb. 15, Quebec Superior Court judge Jacques Viens sentenced Sammy Shennungnuk, 44, to seven years, minus a credit of 16 months for time already served in preventive custody.

Shennungnuk will serve six years for sexual assault; one year for assault, to be served at the same time; and one more year for obstruction of justice, to be served after the first six years. After deducting 18 months for time served in preventive custody, he will serve 68 months in prison.

He must also register as a sex offender and provide police with a DNA sample. He will never be able to carry firearms, the judge said.

Shennungnuk, who has been in and out of prison for more than 20 years, looked on impassively as the judge handed down his sentence.

In the past, most jury trials in Nunavik have ended with acquittals, as juries have been reluctant to send one of their fellow Nunavimmiut south for an extended period of imprisonment — even if they were probably guilty.

One Kuujjuaq jury reportedly acquitted an offender — and then added, “don’t do it again.”

But not that’s not what happened this time.

During the trial, Shennungnuk defended himself carefully in fluent Inuttitut and English. His lawyer, Michel Lussier, a 40-year courtroom veteran, offered a skilled defence; the victim’s testimony was not always convincing, and the Crown prosecutor fumbled in cross-examinations, sometimes asking leading or unclear questions.

But none of these performances mattered.

That’s because the jury of 12 men and women, largely young and employed Kuujjuammiut, considered all the evidence and found Shennungnuk guilty of sexual assault.

Verdict aside, events leading to the sexual assault, which occurred on June 9, 2005, are sad. Shennunguk had returned to Kuujjuaq only a few months before, after finishing a five-year term for attempted murder and another for sexual assault.

He’d started a relationship with the victim, but by June, it had turned sour, with episodes of drinking and jealousy, along with incidents of rough sex, infidelity and sexually-transmitted disease.

On the night of the assault, the two had received their pay and planned a night of shopping, bingo and beer. Shennungnuk said he had just wanted to stay home and paint, and not to drink. But after drinking a case of beer later, an argument erupted between them and degenerated into blows in the bathroom.

“When I punched her, she was knocked out cold,” Shennungnuk said.

Shennungnuk told the jury he just left the victim, drank more beer in the kitchen, and then went to bed. When he work up the next day, the found his girlfriend hitting him.

He said he then decided to leave town and go out on the land to clear his head.

But the victim’s version of events of that night differed — she said Shennungnuk dragged her by her hair after knocking her to the bathroom floor, and continued the physical assault in bed where she finally gave into his demands for sex.

Although she went to the police the next day to have a handcuff removed, she did not ask to go to the hospital to be examined for sexual assault and she pressed charges only a few days later — charges that Shennunguk urged her to drop in a long letter and in telephone calls he made after his arrest.

The judge instructed the jury to use their “common sense” and study the evidence presented in court to determine whose version they accepted about the sexual assault.

Shennungnuk’s previous record was not to be considered as evidence of guilt, but “to see if he has credibility,” the judge said.

The jury decided to accept the word of the victim and found Shennungnuk guilty of sexual assault.

The jury didn’t have to find Shennungnuk guilty on the other charges because he had already pleaded guilty to a separate charge of assault and obstruction of justice before the trial, and the Crown withdrew another charge of unlawful confinement at the last minute.

After rendering their verdict of guilty of sexual assault, the jury left. They walked by Shennungnuk, not looking at him, leaving before hearing his sentence.

Shennungnuk, who had followed the court proceedings attentively throughout, nodded as the judge explained his sentence.

“I hope after this that you will have the opportunity to live without criminal offences,” Judge Viens said to Shennungnuk.

Before the trial ended, the Crown prosecutor said he would look into applying to have Shennungnuk named as a “dangerous offender,” which means he could remain in jail or under supervision indefinitely.

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