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King murder case moves to preliminary inquiry
24-year-old accused of killing man and injuring another in 2014 apartment attack back in court

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A preliminary hearing for a man charged with second degree murder and attempted murder began Monday, almost two years after police found two men seriously injured in a downtown apartment building.

NNSL photo/graphic

Denecho Noel Calvin King is escorted to a van on Monday after the first day of his preliminary hearing at the Yellowknife courthouse on charges of second degree murder and attempted murder. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

Inquiry, explained

The preliminary inquiry that began this week will determine whether the Crown's case against Denecho King warrants proceeding to trial.

It's essentially a dry run of the actual trial, with the Crown prosecutor calling witnesses and entering evidence as exhibits.

It's also a chance for the prosecutor and defence to understand the case better and to see what witnesses might say under oath, said Caroline Wawzonek, a lawyer with Dragon Toner Law Office who also speaks about legal issues on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association.

The hurdle the Crown must clear is low - the judge must be satisfied there is some evidence that could lead a jury to convict the accused, a publication called The Canadian Justice System and the Media notes. Conviction requires the higher bar of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Held in territorial court, this stage of the judicial process tends to get limited media coverage because publication bans on evidence are standard.

The ban prevents potential jurors from learning about evidence that may arise later should a case go to trial. Much of the evidence at a preliminary inquiry is repeated later at trial.

Wawzonek said the inquiry and later trial have fundamentally different purposes.

"It's been my experience that it's an opportunity to focus and narrow issues when it goes to trial," she said.

Lengthy preliminary hearings involving dozens of witnesses - King's case is expected to hear from up to 40 - are relatively rare in the territory, said defence lawyer Peter Harte.

"That's an unusually long list of witnesses but I would point out this is an unusually serious matter in Yellowknife," Wawzonek said.

At the end of the hearing the judge will decide whether the case proceeds to trial, held in NWT Supreme Court. A defendant can elect to be tried by judge and jury or judge alone.

Should the judge decide there isn't enough evidence, the defendant can be discharged. The Crown can opt to reinstate the charge which moves it straight to trial, although that's relatively unusual, Harte said.

John Wifladt, 39, succumbed to his injuries while Colin Digness, who is in his early 40s, was medevaced to Edmonton for further medical treatment.

Denecho Noel Calvin King, 24, was charged with second degree murder and attempted murder months after police responded to the early morning incident Dec. 14, 2014, at the Sunridge Place apartment building on 51A Avenue.

Eleven days have been set aside for NWT Territorial Court Judge Robert Gorin to hear evidence in the case and to decide whether it is strong enough to proceed to trial on the charges police announced against King on May 1, 2015. The Crown may call up to 40 people to testify, defence lawyer Jay Bran has previously said.

Crown prosecutor Alex Godfrey was expected on Tuesday to call paramedics who transported the two men to hospital as the hearing continued. A publication ban was imposed on testimony and exhibits, such as photos of items in the apartment. The ban means little can be reported about what occurred.

The preliminary inquiry began with testimony from five RCMP officers Monday in Courtroom 4, one of the smallest courtrooms in the building. There was added security, with two RCMP officers keeping watch. A third RCMP officer in a suit watched from the gallery as evidence was given.

King also faces a charge in connection with an escape from the North Slave Correctional Centre on Aug. 10.

King, wearing grey sweatpants, a white T-shirt with a graphic print, remained in leg shackles during the hearing as he sat beside his lawyer.

He listened without any obvious reaction to the testimony of five RCMP officers, slumping in his chair as the hearing wore on through Monday afternoon.

The public gallery remained largely empty on the first day of the hearing.

King smiled and waved at his mother in the gallery when he was first brought in to the courtroom Monday morning. He made a hand signal like he was using a phone while mouthing something to her.

Later as he was being taken back to holding cells during a break he turned and told her "make sure you get a number" while again making the phone-hand gesture.

She wasn't in court when it resumed after the lunch break.

Three officers testified via video conference on Monday, although it was complicated by audio problems that resulted in court staff calling the officers' cellphones so there was reliable audio and video.

One officer requested an iPhone charger from someone off-screen when he learned a cellphone's speaker phone function would be used for the audio portion of the testimony.

Another officer held a cellphone to his ear during his testimony that lasted nearly 45 minutes.

Gorin later lightly scolded Godfrey, saying any future witnesses testifying by video should use a hands-free system.

The courthouse's video conference system has been unreliable in the past. An obstruction case was slowed in September during the cross examination of an RCMP officer.

The feed froze mid-sentence or dropped as lawyers were asking questions, leaving court staff scrambling to re-establish the connection.

The video system is regularly used so those held in jail awaiting court dates around the territory don't have to be transported to the courthouse for some appearances that often last only a few minutes.

King's hearing continues until Friday when it adjourns for the weekend.

It resumes Monday and Tuesday. It's scheduled to continue Dec. 7 to Dec. 9 and expected to conclude Dec. 14, exactly two years after Wifladt's death.

Wifladt was the only homicide victim in the city in 2014.

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