Murder trial hears Hay River man died of hypothermia

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

The doctor who examined the body of a Hay River man who was found beaten and frozen in a car in late 2017 testified that hypothermia was the main cause of death, but said severe head injuries were also a significant contributing factor.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Mitchell Weinberg testified Tuesday in the N.W.T. Supreme Court trial of James Thomas. Thomas, 29, is charged with first degree murder and robbery in the death of Alex Norwegian in an isolated area of Hay River known as the portage.

Weinberg said during his examination of Norwegian, he saw small ulcers in his stomach lining, an indicator of physiological stress, such as hypothermia. He said his conclusion is also based on the circumstances surrounding Norwegian's death. He was found in a car with broken windows, without a coat, when the temperature was below -20 C with a wind chill of -30.

Earlier in the trial witnesses testified that Thomas and Cayen went by snowmobile to rob Norwegian, who had been selling crack cocaine from his car. They said after they returned, Cayen called police from a convenience store payphone to report an intoxicated driver off the road where they had left Norwegian. Norwegian remained there for more than a day before a passerby found him.

The RCMP earlier said they will not be answering questions about the case until the matter is dealt with by the courts.

Levi Cayen's trial for first degree murder and robbery is scheduled to be held in February.

Head injuries 'potentially fatal'

Weinberg testified in the Yellowknife courtroom via video link from New Hampshire, where he now works. He said Norwegian suffered numerous powerful blows to the head that caused a number of injuries including a fractured skull and swelling of the brain.

"It likely played a substantial role in Mr. Norwegian's inability to escape the environment that led to his death," said Weinberg. The doctor said the head injuries would have impaired Norwegian's ability to think and reason. "I have no problem believing Mr. Norwegian would have been suffering some sort of altered mental state as a result of his head injuries."

Prosecutor Duane Praught asked if the head injuries would have been fatal on their own, if Norwegian had not been left in a cold environment.

"My honest answer to that question is I don't know," said Weinberg. "The severity of the injuries was very concerning, potentially fatal."

Justice Andrew Mahar picked up that thread.

"Do you think death is likely as a result of these injuries alone?"

"In the absence of medical treatment... I think there would be a substantial risk of death from the head injuries alone," said Weinberg.

The doctor said the injuries, particularly the brain swelling caused by the blows, would have required treatment from a neurosurgeon. Mahar noted that specialist treatment is not available in the N.W.T..

The trial is scheduled to continue into next week.