Accused was 'active participant' in murder of Hay River man, says Crown

·3 min read
A photo exhibit entered during the trial of James George Thomas shows the Mazda Protege, with broken windows, that the victim of a robbery and beating was found in more than a day after the attack. (Public Prosecution Service of Canada - image credit)
A photo exhibit entered during the trial of James George Thomas shows the Mazda Protege, with broken windows, that the victim of a robbery and beating was found in more than a day after the attack. (Public Prosecution Service of Canada - image credit)

A man accused of first degree murder and robbery in the death of a Hay River, N.W.T., man knew the victim was in "mortal danger" when he left the scene, a Crown attorney argued Friday.

James George Thomas is on trial for the death of Alexander Norwegian. His cousin, Levi Cayen, is one of three witnesses in the case and he will be tried on the same charges in January.

Though Thomas may not have been the one to strike Norwegian with a weapon, Crown lawyer Duane Praught in his closing arguments Friday that he was an "active participant" in the beating and robbery, which took place early hours of Dec. 27, 2017.

Praught said Thomas was "obsessed" with finding drugs and cash inside the victim's car, where Norwegian was found inside, frozen to death, more than a day later.

The vehicle was "torn from the tip of the hood to the hatchback," said Praught.

Experts testified to the victim's significant head injuries, several lacerations on the face, head and body, and marks consistent with being bound by rope around the arms and neck, said Praught.

Alexander Norwegian's body was found the morning of Dec. 28, 2017, inside a damaged Mazda Protege.
Alexander Norwegian's body was found the morning of Dec. 28, 2017, inside a damaged Mazda Protege.(Randi Beers/CBC)

The court heard Cayen brought a thin metal pipe to the remote location where Norwegian's car was parked near the Hay River portage and that Cayen perpetrated most of the violence.

Defence lawyer John Hale has argued his client, Thomas, was a reluctant participant.

But in his closing submissions, Praught said that was "nonsense."

He argued Thomas was a drug dealer who had nothing left to sell, and that he saw an opportunity to rob a fellow drug dealer, and knew Norwegian wouldn't be able to report the theft to police.

Praught said when the pair both left Norwegian in his car, Thomas knew the other man was severely beaten and the windows of his vehicle were destroyed. It was -22 C — even colder with windchill — and Norwegian wasn't coherent enough to drive, he said.

"[Thomas] knew Alexander Norwegian was going to die," said Praught.

He also highlighted in his closing submissions that Thomas immediately burned evidence when he arrived at his home, including his own clothes and Norwegian's jacket and sweater.

Praught said Thomas also told Cayen to report a drunk driver near the portage.

"If he thought Alexander Norwegian was in mortal danger when he got back to his house, he knew he was in mortal danger when he left the portage," said Praught.

He also argued Cayen's perjured himself several times during his testimony in Thomas's trial and that Justice Andrew Mahar should accept his previous statement to police, on January 4, 2017, instead.

Cayen and Thomas's two other relatives have been key witnesses in the trial as well.

Sasha Cayen pleaded guilty to manslaughter for setting up the robbery and Tyler Cayen pleaded guilty to accessory to manslaughter. Both were sentenced in early 2019; Sasha Cayen to three years and seven months in jail, and Tyler to two years in jail.

Both are already out on probation.

Praught will finish delivering his closing submissions on Monday. Hale, Thomas's defence lawyer, is expected to deliver his closing submissions on Tuesday.

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