Co-accused in murder trial recants previous statement

·5 min read
The first degree murder and robbery trial of James Thomas continues in N.W.T. Supreme Court in Yellowknife. On Friday, co-accused Levi Cayen recanted much of what he said in an earlier statement to police, testifying he acted alone. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
The first degree murder and robbery trial of James Thomas continues in N.W.T. Supreme Court in Yellowknife. On Friday, co-accused Levi Cayen recanted much of what he said in an earlier statement to police, testifying he acted alone. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

Days after a 25-year-old man was found beaten and frozen in a car near Hay River, Northwest Territories, a tearful Levi Cayen confessed to police that he and his cousin, James Thomas, had beaten the man and left him in the car, bloodied and dazed, that frigid winter night.

In court on Friday, Cayen said it was all a lie.

Cayen now says he went alone to meet Alex Norwegian to buy drugs for someone else. Testifying at Thomas's first degree murder trial, the 23-year-old said he and Norwegian got into a fight. Cayen said he can't remember what led up to the fight, who he was buying the drugs for or what kind of condition Norwegian was in when he left him.

Crown prosecutor Duane Praught suggested to Cayen that he was lying in court, but telling the truth when he spoke to police soon after Norwegian's death. Praught suggested Cayen is trying to protect his cousin and avoid being labelled a snitch at the North Slave Correctional Centre, where both he and Thomas are being held.

"You're also worried about your cousin testifying against you at your trial, isn't that right?" asked Praught.

Cayen is scheduled to be tried on the same charges as Thomas — first-degree murder and robbery — starting Jan. 17. His jury trial had been scheduled to begin at the end of February but was recently rescheduled.

Cayen told Praught he was high from taking psilocybin mushrooms — better known as "magic" mushrooms — the day before he was questioned by police. He said he was scared during the interview and just told the police what they seemed to want to hear.

He also said that at the start of the interview, the officers told him that Thomas and others charged in connection with Norwegian's death were trying to pin the crime on him.

Police confession

During a videotaped interview at the Hay River RCMP detachment on Jan. 4, 2018, part of which was played in court on Friday, Cayen gave what he repeatedly said was an honest account of what happened the night Norwegian died.

As hard as it is, you are doing the right thing. - Const. Jack Keefe

He said when he arrived at Thomas's house the night of Dec. 26, 2017, Thomas and two other cousins, Sasha Cayen and Tyler Cayen, were there and seemed to have planned something. He said Thomas suggested they go out for a ride on his snowmobile and Tyler and Sasha urged him to do so.

"And the next thing you know, they're talking about jacking Alex," Cayen told Const. Jack Keefe.

Earlier in Thomas's trial, Tyler testified he and Sasha had been smoking crack cocaine and drinking that night. He said it was Thomas who first suggested the idea of robbing Norwegian.

Both Tyler and Sasha testified that they had bought crack from Norwegian earlier that night, then returned to pull him out after he got stuck. He gave them some crack as a reward.

Sasha admitted she texted Norwegian pretending to set up another buy to pinpoint his location for the robbery. Both said Thomas and Levi Cayen followed through on the plan.

An areal photo of the area near Hay River, N.W.T., shows the isolated area known as 'The Portage.' right, where the victim was found and the West Channel area of Vale Island, where the cousins accused in the death live.
An areal photo of the area near Hay River, N.W.T., shows the isolated area known as 'The Portage.' right, where the victim was found and the West Channel area of Vale Island, where the cousins accused in the death live. (Public Prosecution Service of Canada)

Levi Cayen told police that at one point his cousins suggested that his girlfriend may be with Norwegian.

"That's how they … got me to go," he said. "That's the only reason I found myself on that skidoo was because I was curious to see if my girlfriend was out there."

Throughout the interview at the Hay River detachment, Cayen worries aloud about losing his girlfriend and spending many years in prison. Keefe and Special Constable Steve Beck reassure him and praise him for his honesty.

"Right now, you should be proud of yourself," Keefe says in the tape.

"Damn straight," Beck says.

"Because you are doing the right thing," Keefe continues. "As hard as it is, you are doing the right thing."

Cayen told Keefe that when he and Thomas arrived at Norwegian's car, Thomas tried to break the driver's side window with a small bat he had brought but could not. Cayen said Thomas told him to break it with a metal pipe he had given him, as Norwegian climbed into the back seat and tried to get out the passenger side door.

Cayen said he and Thomas caught Norwegian and beat him. Then Thomas tied his hands behind his back and searched his car for drugs but found none. He said Norwegian offered to take Thomas to where his stash of cocaine was and leave town, but Thomas did not believe him.

Cayen said he went along with what Thomas suggested because he was terrified. He said he was not dressed for the weather and his only way home was on the snowmobile they had come on.

Cayen told police that just before they left, Thomas took Norwegian's coat and put him into the driver's seat of the car. Cayen said the dazed victim tried to drive away but the car stalled and rolled into a snowbank. He said he suggested driving Norwegian to the hospital in his car, but Thomas rejected the idea.

"Like, I didn't even want to sit around at Jimmy's when we got back," Cayen told Keefe. "The first thing I asked him was, 'Can I go call this guy some help?' He seemed like he didn't know what to do so I just took the skidoo."

Cayen said he went to a payphone and alerted police to Norwegian's location. Norwegian was not found until a passerby found him in the car more than a day after the attack.

At the end of the interview, Norwegian told the officers, "I told you everything, every single detail. Everything I know about that night you guys know."