Chris Bishop found guilty on all charges
Iqaluit jury finds former Cambridge Bay resident guilty on three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder
(Updated 11:20 a.m., June 9)
CHRIS WINDEYER AND JIM BELL
Following about eight hours of deliberations June 8, a six-man, six-woman jury found Chris Bishop guilty on three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, in relation to a bloody shooting incident that took place Jan. 6. 2007 in Cambridge Bay.
The three murder convictions relate to the deaths of Kevin Komaksiut, 21, and Keith Atatahak, 28, of Cambridge Bay, as well as Dean Costa, 29, of Edmonton. The two attempted murder convictions relate to the wounding of Logan Pigalak and Antoinette Bernhardt, who Bishop shot during the same incident.
Bishop, 24, fired at all five people with a 7.62 millimetre Russian-designed semi-automatic assault rifle loaded with an illegal 30-shot clip, after they smashed Bishop’s door down and entered his housing unit in Cambridge Bay in an apparent attempt to assault him.
“It’s hard, but I thank God for our justice system. It’s a good system,” Kugluktuk mayor Ernie Bernhardt, a former MLA, told reporters.
Bernhardt’s daughter, Antoinette, suffered gunshot wounds in the incident, and was the common-law spouse of Keith Atatahak.
Scott Cowan, Bishop’s defence lawyer, said he was surprised at the verdict.
Cowan had mounted an aggressive defence based on Bishop’s right to defend himself against the five intruders, whose attempted home invasion he described as the “cowardly, criminal action of a gang of thugs.”
“Some people came into his (Bishop’s) bedroom to kill him. His response was called a criminal act,” Cowan said.
Crown prosecutor Paul Bychok said the defence argument that Bishop was acting only in self-defence fell apart with evidence that at least two men, Atatahak and Komaksiut were shot from behind.
Bychok added that Bishop fired the shot that killed Kevin Komaksiut after a wounded Komaksiut had tried to crawl away. His body was found more than 40 metres from Bishop’s front door.
“This was the defining moment of the case where Mr. Bishop’s intensions at the beginning were made very, very clear,” Bychok said. “Obviously the jury agreed.”
Bishop made no comment as he was led from the courthouse. Cowan said Bishop was taking the verdict in stride.
“He’s being a gentleman, he’s being very professional,” Cowan said.
The incident arose out of a bitter, booze-driven feud that started on New Year’s Eve between Bishop and at least two of the men he shot.
All of the shooting victims were drunk when they broke into his house. One of the survivors, Logan Pigalak, was later charged and convicted of breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offence.
Convictions on second-degree murder carry a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment, with a minimum parole ineligibility period of 10 years.
But juries may recommend that convicted second-degree murderers serve periods longer than 10 years before they are eligible for parole.
The two attempted murder convictions relate to the wounding of Pigalak and Bernhardt, who Bishop shot during the same incident.
During deliberations, the jury came back several times June 8 seeking transcripts, autopsy reports and asking for a legal definition of the lesser charge of manslaughter, which Justice John Vertes had given them as an option during his instructions that morning.
Bychok said he wasn’t concerned about the jury’s questions.
“Remember, you have 12 ordinary citizens who are choseN and come in off the street. And these people are not trained in legal principles,” he said.
When he heard the verdict, delivered at around 9:15 p.m., Bishop swallowed rapidly and shook a little.
Vertes then asked the jury to make recommendations on the length of Bishop’s period of parole ineligibility. Courts are not required to follow jury recommendations on parole ineligibility, but they may be taken into account in the crafting of sentences.
Nine jurors made no recommendation, two recommended an ineligibility period of 20 years, and one juror recommended 10 years.
Bishop will return to court Aug. 26 for a sentencing hearing. Vertes ordered that a pre-sentence report be prepared two weeks before that date.
When one juror leaving the courtroom stared into his face, Bishop turned away and looked down.