Nunavut court: Iqaluit murder accused admits he misled cops
Woman’s death followed three-day vodka binge
When Justice John D. Rooke gives a verdict later on the morning of July 25 on Pitseolak Peter’s second degree murder charge, he’ll decide between an accused killer who changed his story and a Crown case built on a big collection of physical evidence.
Peter, 52, is accused of beating his common-law partner, Kathy Makituk Michael, into a coma on Feb. 3, 2013 at housing unit 2240B in Iqaluit.
Michael died of her injuries Feb. 17, 2013 at an Ottawa hospital.
Peter, who gave evidence in his defence for nearly four hours at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit on July 24, said he didn’t do it.
And he said “no,” repeatedly, when Crown prosecutor Paul Culver, in cross-examination, challenged his story.
“You didn’t lay a finger on her?” Culver said.
“No,” Peter said.
Peter told court that when he woke up in his bedroom on the early evening of Feb, 3, still drunk from a weekend-long vodka binge, he noticed a strange smell in the room and found Michael lying with her head against a blood-covered radiator.
After finding a burn on her face, he said he dragged her into the bathroom, put her in the tub, turned on the shower to cool her face and called 979-1111, Iqaluit’s police emergency number.
But in two videotaped police statements he gave soon after his arrest, Peter told a different story.
In the first, given to Const. Garrett Moore, Peter said Michael walked into the bathroom on her own — and that he called the police just a few minutes after he found her there.
Peter said he told that false story because he wanted to protect himself from being tricked by the police.
“I misled him… I knew that he was trying to trick me into saying other words,” Peter said in court. “I didn’t know what would happen if I told him I woke up to this smell and her head on the radiator.”
In response to questions from his lawyer, James Morton, Peter also described the enormous quantities of vodka he and Michael consumed between Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 and Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.
The binge started on the Friday evening, when the couple drank a 40-ouncer of vodka and smoked a gram of marijuana.
On a scale of one to 10, Peter said the extent of his intoxication reached a level of nine by the time he passed out late that night.
On the Saturday, Michael woke up at around 6:30 a.m., left the house, and returned with a 60-ouncer of vodka.
The couple drank all day and smoked more marijuana. Peter said he reached an intoxication level of 10 out of 10 that night.
“We did that a lot, consuming a 60-ouncer and passing out,” he said.
On the Sunday morning, the couple visited Peter’s sister, who shared half a 60-ouncer of vodka with her guests.
“She offers us a cup each and we each had a cup,” Peter said.
Drinking vodka out of coffee mugs, or “cups,” is a common practice in Nunavut.
Peter said he usually mixed water with his liquor, while Michael usually drank her vodka straight.
After finishing the first bottle at around noon, the group of three were joined by another couple who brought another 60-ouncer that Michael had bought.
The group of five drank about half of the new bottle. In mid-afternoon, Peter and Michael headed home, with Peter carrying the half-full 60-ouncer inside his jacket.
He said they continued drinking at home until he passed out after reaching an intoxication level of 10 out of 10.
Before that, he said Michael got some frozen fish from the fridge and cut some pieces from it with an axe, producing loud, banging noises that a neighbor heard.
At one point, he said her heard her say “Ajjai!” This led him to believe that she had hit herself with the axe.
He also said he saw her walk back and forth between the bathroom two or three times.
When he regained consciousness, Peter said that was when he found her lying with her head on the radiator.
Jay Potter, a Crown prosecutor who is assisting Culver, said in closing arguments that Peter’s story doesn’t make sense.
“This testimony isn’t worthy of belief,” Potter said.
And he accused Peter of changing his story to fit the facts that he now knows the Crown can prove.
“It is the Crown’s view that he gave this contradicting information because he’s making it up as he goes along.”
An RCMP blood spatter expert had earlier said in court that at least three patches of blood found inside Peter’s bedroom had been caused by the impact of somebody’s body.
Potter also pointed to Michael’s severe injuries, saying they could only have been caused by a severe beating.
Those injuries included a cut on her mouth, a broken neck bone, bruises around her eyes, a huge gash above her left eye, a burn on her face and bruised labia.
Morton, however, tried to raise reasonable doubt on several points. And he cautioned Rooke about “rushing to judgment.”
He pointed to evidence that a third person, as yet unidentified, could have entered the house that evening.
That’s because the RCMP blood expert found traces of dried blood — which did not belong to either Peter or Michael — in a second bedroom.
“Police did not investigate the possibility of a third party in the house,” Morton said.
He also said police were biased by their belief that Peter is guilty.
“It was assumed that Mr. Peter was guilty and they only gathered evidence pointing that way.”
He also attacked the evidence given by the blood spatter expert, saying the expert didn’t understand the computer program he used to generate his conclusions.
“We agree that it is admissible, but its weight is zero,” Morton said.
He also said Michael could have been injured accidentally.
He also suggested that Peter was too intoxicated to cause Michael’s death and that if Rooke finds that he did assault her, he should find him guilty of manslaughter.
Using a report from an expert in the effects of intoxication, Morton said Peter may have been in an “unblocked blackout” — awake but not conscious.
“The evidence of Mr. Peter and all the evidence leave the court with reasonable doubt,” Morton said.
Potter, however, said the unidentified third person’s blood was found in another bedroom, not the crime scene.
“It is a red herring, in this case, a dried brown one…,” Potter said.
“The overwhelming totality of evidence points to the accused.”
Rooke, who is hearing the case without a jury, said he is likely to give his verdict after 9:30 a.m. July 25.