Nunavut man admits killing uncle, but can’t remember how fight began
“He only wanted to beat up Mathew, not kill him”
Crown prosecutor Paul Bychok said Alec Petooloosie knew exactly what he was doing when he beat his uncle repeatedly for 30 minutes straight, ultimately causing his death three years ago.
But Petooloosie’s lawyer, Glen Wilson, says his client had lived through a painful upbringing, was emotionally unwell and even suicidal in the months leading up to the attack.
Regardless of his state of mind, Alec admitted he killed Mathew Petooloosie. But he doesn’t remember what triggered his rage.
Petooloosie, 24, of Iqaluit, pleaded guilty to manslaughter April 10, 2013 in relation to the 2011 death of his 36-year-old uncle Mathew.
At a sentence hearing May 23 before Justice Earl Johnson at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, lawyers grappled with the details of the beating, which sprang from an argument Wilson says Alec can’t remember.
On Dec. 12, 2011 in Iqaluit, Alec and Mathew were drinking from a 60 oz. bottle of vodka at Mathew’s house, where Alec resided at the time.
Mathew drank heavily — a pathologist later determined he had been three times over the legal limit at the time of his death.
Wilson said that when Alec and Mathew drank together, they would often argue. RCMP officers had been summoned to their house at least eight times over the previous three months.
On that night, a few weeks before Christmas, Alec doesn’t remember what the two had been arguing about but after about an hour, Wilson said, Alec got tired of arguing and punched Mathew in the jaw.
Mathew threw two punches in self-defence “before he was overwhelmed by his younger assailant,” according to an agreed statement of facts.
When Mathew tried to get away by running to a different room in the apartment, Alec followed.
At one point, Alec choked his uncle by forcing two of his fingers in and out of Mathew’s throat, causing a fracture to Mathew’s Adam’s apple.
He also attacked Mathew with a hollow aluminum broom handle.
The attack, which lasted about 30 minutes, was vicious. Alec re-enacted the scene for police in January 2012, saying that when he stopped hitting Mathew, “there was blood everywhere.”
A forensic pathologist found no less than 76 injuries on Mathew’s body.
Alec, whose standard-issue blue inmate sweat suit hung from his slender five-foot-nine, 140-pound frame, used a tissue to wipe away tears at one point, but otherwise remained silent during the proceedings.
Once the attack was over, Alec cleaned himself up in the bathroom.
He then went to check on his uncle and saw that he was having trouble breathing. He tried giving Mathew CPR — which he’s qualified to do — but to no avail. Alec then ran to another uncle’s house nearby to call an ambulance.
He then ran back and waited with Mathew until paramedics showed up.
Mathew’s cause of death was determined to be fatal trauma to the brain.
The defence lawyer argued his client did not know his uncle was dying from internal injuries.
“He only wanted to beat up Mathew, not kill him,” Wilson said, adding later that Alec had an “emotional loss of control.”
“He never suspected Mathew’s life was in danger.”
Wilson said the fight was “steeped in alcohol” and that Alec was acting out because of the abuse he suffered as a child and the alcohol and drugs he’d been using to cope.
For a good portion of the hearing, Wilson described Alec’s tragic upbringing in an abusive and hostile family environment.
His mother died when he was 12 but even before that, he’d made a habit of drinking alcohol, sniffing gas and doing drugs. His grandmother largely raised him, but she was an alcoholic herself and abusive toward him.
Alec and his siblings once discovered the body of another uncle who had died by suicide.
Alec spent two years in a residential treatment centre in Saskatchewan then returned to live in an Iqaluit foster home before running away to live with his grandmother again. All his bad habits resumed.
Wilson said Alec suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Alec admitted he’d been unconscious “about 100 times” in his life due to drinking and fighting.
A neurologist diagnosed Alec with a seizure disorder — which Wilson said was due to alcohol abuse — and sometimes suffered as many as five seizures a day.
Three months before Alec killed Mathew, he moved in with his uncle. During that time, Alec tried to kill himself by slashing his own neck with a knife. Mathew tackled Alec and saved his life.
The two patched up the neck wound with Krazy Glue and bandages.
Because of the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v. Gladue, judges must, if lawyers raise them during sentencing hearings, consider the adverse cultural impacts of aboriginal ancestry including colonialism, suicide, substance abuse, overcrowding and residential schools.
These are often referred to as “Gladue factors.”
But Crown prosecutor Bychok said in his written submission that Gladue doesn’t apply in this case.
“This is one of those cases where the appropriate sentence would be the same whether or not the offender was an Inuk.”
Bychok said that when officers arrived at the house, they did not think Alec was intoxicated. However, Wilson said in his submission that once at the RCMP detachment, the officers kept Alec overnight because he was too drunk.
Ultimately, Bychok said any reasonable person “must have known that Mathew’s life would have been in jeopardy,” after suffering such “demonstrative, gruesome injuries.”
Bychok told Justice Johnson that the “vicious, brutal, deliberate assault” was “close to near murder.”
“In this case, Alec knew exactly what was going on every step of the way,” Bychok said in a loud voice, even pointing at Alec in the courtroom.
And Wilson said Alec had no motive — something Bychok vehemently denied.
Bychok pointed to a statement Alec gave to police about living with his uncle.
“I was living with him for three months. And those things, little things that piss you off each day and day and day, just boils up and then it comes out when you get drunk, that’s what happens. Everything’s bottled up inside. Then every little thing that used to piss me off about, just came out when we started fighting. He was just trying to help me.”
Although Wilson himself called the beating “senseless,” he read a letter to Johnson in which Alec apologized to his family and said he’s remorseful.
“I accept full responsibility,” Wilson said, reading Alec’s letter. “I’m truly sorry for letting my community down.
“I take full responsibility. He was more than an uncle, he was a friend.”
Bychok is asking Johnson for a prison sentence of between 10 and 13 years. Wilson is asking for a five-year sentence.
Johnson expects to hand down a decision May 27.