Lawyers wrangle over Bishop murder convictions at Nunavut appeal court
Bishop has “good shot at succeeding in this appeal”
A panel of three Alberta judges sitting at the Nunavut Court of Justice as the Nunavut Court of Appeal heard arguments for and against Chris Bishop’s 2010 murder convictions Sept.25.
Bishop shot and killed three people and wounded two others after they broke onto his housing unit Jan. 3, 2007 in Cambridge Bay.
Bishop, now 26, is serving a life sentence for convictions on three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He will be eligible for parole in 2026.
Claiming self-defense, Bishop fired 25 shots from a semi-automatic assault rifle with an illegal 30-shot clip against the five home invaders, with whom he had a previous altercation less than a week before, on New Year’s Eve.
Kevin Komaksiut, 21, Keith Atatahak, 28, and Dean Costa, 29, died as a result. Logan Pigalak and Antoinette Bernhardt were wounded in the attack, but later recovered from their injuries.
Bishop’s Toronto-based defence lawyer, James Morton, presented two main arguments to support the idea that Justice John Vertes had erred during Bishop’s 2010 trial.
The first is that the jury should not have heard certain evidence given by a witness, Brenda Ohokak.
Ohokak testified that Bishop had previously boasted about killing other people in Yellowknife — a fact not proven to be true — on top of saying Bishop had told her that “they were going to pay” for the previous dispute on New Year’s Eve.
This evidence came as a surprise to the defence at the time, and Morton says it could have prejudiced the jury’s view of Bishop’s character.
“They painted him to be a bad man. And he’s not on trial for being a bad man — he’s on trial for what he did that night,” Morton told Nunatsiaq News .
The other argument is the nature of the home invasion the aggressors mounted against Bishop’s home.
Morton said evidence about the violent characters of the five drunk-and-stoned aggressors had been excluded during the trial.
“When you look at a home invasion, it can happen in a number of ways. It can be a bunch of drunk guys singing and laughing and drinking beer bottles, saying ‘hey lets go kick in the door,’” Morton said.
“They’re annoying, but they’re not very dangerous. You’re not allowed to take out a gun and shoot them. On the other hand, they can become almost like an attack team,” he said. “They’ve got weapons, and they’re clearly here to kill you. In a situation like that, you are allowed to defend yourself, to defend your life.”
Other arguments will be presented if the case goes to a retrial, Morton said.
Morton wouldn’t say he’s confident the case would go to a retrial, but said he thinks he has a “good shot at succeeding in this appeal.”
That’s because Justices Brian O’Ferrall, Jean Côté and Patricia Rowbotham, all from Alberta, did not seem convinced by Crown prosecutor David Littlefield, Morton said.
Littlefield argued that when Ohokak presented new evidence to the jury, Bishop’s defence lawyer at the time, Scott Cowan, did not object.
But Côté pressed Littlefield about Ohokak’s evidence, asking if the information had been heard in a prejudicial process, to which Littlefield did not give a clear answer.
Côté, after questioning Littlefield about it approximately five times, threw his arms up in frustration and gave up his line of questioning.
Morton said he is expecting a decision about the possibility of a retrial in November, but said it could take until after the holiday season in December.
If the judges decide not to allow a retrial, Morton said the case will be taken to the Supreme Court of Canada in two or three years.
“It really raises the issues of: what does a jury hear and what does a jury not hear,” Morton said.