Tyler Hikoalok murder trial hears of school visit after librarian was beaten

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Tyler Hikoalok has pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of 59-year-old Elisabeth Salm. (www.tr1bemusic.com - image credit)
Tyler Hikoalok has pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of 59-year-old Elisabeth Salm. (www.tr1bemusic.com - image credit)

Testimony at Tyler Hikoalok's trial on Thursday focused on his time at the alternative education school he attended, which is where the Crown alleges he visited after the beating that led to Elisabeth Salm's death.

Hikoalok, who was 18 at the time and is now 22, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Salm.

Salm, who was 59 at the time of her death, was found beaten at the Christian Science Reading Room, where she worked, on Laurier Avenue West on May 24, 2018.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne London-Weinstein is presiding over the jury trial at Ottawa's Elgin Street courthouse.

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Court heard Hikoalok had attended the Debbie Campbell Learning Academy at 440 Albert St. from 2015 to 2018. The program offers support for youth who may have been in crisis or otherwise have difficulty maintaining a regular school placement.

Tracy Ludmer, a teacher at the Debbie Campbell Learning Academy, said Hikoalok's attendance slipped after his 18th birthday that January when he was no longer required to attend.

Ludmer said Hikoalok took some time to warm up to people, but was generally well-liked by staff, and some of the younger students looked up to him.

"He was observant and very funny," Ludmer told court. "He was very friendly with us and liked to joke around with us. He didn't enjoy doing academics ... with encouragement he would get that stuff done."

Ludmer said she recalled seeing Hikoalok on the day Salm was beaten when she arrived at classroom late in the morning after a doctor's appointment. She said he was seated at her desk and gave his usual greeting.

"Tyler liked to greet me by giving me the finger. It was a joke he did a lot," she said.

Exhibit/Ontario Superior Court of Justice
Exhibit/Ontario Superior Court of Justice

Ludmer told court she recalled Hikoalok interacting normally with other students, browsing for hats and shoes on a class computer, and didn't detect any signs of intoxication by drugs or alcohol.

In cross-examination by defence lawyer Michael Smith, Ludmer agreed she hadn't checked his bag or specifically had a conversation with him about whether he'd consumed drugs or alcohol before class.

Ludmer also said she didn't explain herself well when she told police in a June 4 interview that she was no longer keeping track of Hikoalok's presence in class. She also said given it's been four years, she is less certain of her memory of details such as Hikoalok's clothes.

She said they were still keeping a place for him to continue his studies even though his attendance had fallen off and agreed with Smith that she thought he had potential.

Enjoyed creating music

Ronald Destiné, a youth counsellor at the learning academy, said Hikoalok would regularly talk to him about a range of topics including his passion for creating hip hop music.

Hikoalok would regularly talk about a studio he attended on Wednesdays to record music, and they spoke about it on May 24, a Thursday, Destiné said.

"We spoke. He was telling me that he went to the studio the night before and he created some new music," he said.

Destiné said he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary with Hikoalok that day and he didn't detect any signs of intoxication by drugs or alcohol on May 24.

Destiné said he had seen Hikoalok intoxicated on a handful of occasions — where he would be calm, withdrawn and slur his words or otherwise "off" his regular behaviour. In those situations, Hikoalok was isolated from other students.

The defence is expected to continue their cross-examination of Destiné Friday.

'I didn't know I killed anybody'

Earlier Thursday, court heard about Hikoalok's May 27, 2018 arrest from Const. Steve Luchies, who was part of the surveillance unit team that tracked him down.

Luchies said they watched Hikoalok asking for cigarettes around the ByWard Market and briefly popping into the Youth Services Bureau.

During the arrest at the corner of Rideau and Nelson Streets, Luchies said Hikoalok spoke to him after he'd been handcuffed but before the constable read him his rights.

Luchies, referring to his notes, told court Hikoalok said: "I was blackout drunk a couple days ago ... I didn't know I killed anybody ... I woke up on the sidewalk."

Luchies said other than telling him he was under arrest for first-degree murder and sexual assault, he didn't provide any other details of the alleged offence. Luchies also said he told Hikoalok he hadn't read him his rights yet and to remain silent.

Luchies said Hikoalok had no difficulty following instructions during the arrest, didn't resist and didn't seem impaired.

After the constable read him his rights and a caution about statements made to police, he said Hikoalok repeated several times, "I didn't know I killed anybody."