Nunavut appeal court ponders convicted killer’s 2013 trial
Lawyer for Bruce Kayaitok, 39, says trial was full of errors
A panel of judges will spend the coming weeks pondering an appeal mounted by a Kugaaruk man convicted of brutally murdering his common-law wife in 2008, but who claims his original trial was riddled with errors.
Bruce Kayaitok, 39, was sentenced to life in prison—with no chance of parole for 14 years— by Justice Earl Johnson in 2013 after he was found guilty of second-degree murder for repeatedly stabbing his partner, 30-year-old Belinda Tootiak, with the sharp end of a broken broom handle during a domestic dispute in their home.
Kayaitok’s demands for an appeal were given added weight when it was discovered that Nunavut’s court services couldn’t locate the original exhibits from his trial.
Kayaitok’s defence lawyer, James Morton, told a panel of three appeals judges at the Nunavut Court of Justice Feb. 14 that his client’s conviction amounted to “a paper trial,” whose guilty verdict was, in effect, “a summary judgment” relying on hearsay. Morton said it was also influenced by Kayaitok’s past record of domestic violence that unfairly biased the judge to conclude he intended to murder.
Kayaitok was not present for court proceedings, opting to remain incarcerated in southern Canada, and did not join the court either by telephone or video link.
Kayaitok’s actions, Morton said, were “appalling, dreadful, wrong on every level.”
But he said the 2013 trial failed to separate Kayaitok’s intent to commit the crime he was convicted of—second-degree murder—from the requirements for conviction under the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Morton added Kayaitok’s difficult, abusive upbringing, limited elementary school-level education and illiteracy prevented his client from being considered an “average, sober individual” who could identify his anger issues prior to the murder and to seek out available professional help in the South, as reflected by Johnson in his decision.
“The trial was wrong,” Morton claimed, adding that Kayaitok will seek either a retrial with the included offence of manslaughter or, failing that, a reduction of parole ineligibility to between 12 and 13 years.
But Crown lawyers argued that Kayaitok’s prior history of domestic violence was inseparable from the timeline that led to the murder of Tootiak. The judge nevertheless exercised “a high degree of deference” by omitting a large number of Kayaitok’s violent assaults between 1997 and 2007, they argued.
More damning, they said, was Kayaitok’s jealous and increasingly unhinged behavior immediately before the murder—when he made remarks that suggested he would kill both Tootiak, her children and a man he alleged she was having an affair with.
Tootiak also sought shelter in a safe house in the days immediately prior to the fatal attack, showed her sister evidence of multiple recent beatings—as well as the broken broom handle that would eventfully take her life days later—and was secretly planning to escape Kayaitok and the community.
“You can’t isolate one from the other and separate them from the offence,” said Crown lawyer Tom Lemon, who added Tootiak was almost “prescient” to her fate.
Crown lawyers also rejected Kayaitok’s claim that there was insufficient expert testimony, saying that blood spatter analyses on the walls of his home, as well as autopsy photos, prove that he continued to beat Tootiak after delivering two deep stabs to the abdomen with the broom stick handle that severed a major artery.
“This is a sustained attack… his conduct is consistent and supports the inference that his actions were intentional,” Lemon told the judges.
Kayaitok also hid the broomstick in a couch cushion after the attack and cleaned the apartment while Tootiak lay bleeding out on the living room floor.
“Kayaitok inflicted a beating that was substantial and prolonged, continued to attack her as she fled the bathroom to the living room dying from her wound,” the Crown said.
When she was finally delivered to Kugaaruk’s emergency health centre, Kayaitok lied to staff, claiming Tootiak had fallen on the broom handle in the bathroom.
“The evidence was overwhelming, the conviction was inevitable,” the Crown said.
Morton argued that cleanup following an attack appears in both manslaughter and murder cases and does not clearly establish intent.
Judges are expected to deliver their verdict on Kayaitok’s appeal in the coming weeks, and will release their decision shortly thereafter.