Wilfred Abraham was convicted Thursday of manslaughter following a three-week trial resting on the question of whether or not Abraham meant to kill Ralph Sifton.
Justice Andrew Mahar ruled he did not.
In August 2018 Abraham assaulted Sifton in a backyard near the Fort Smith men’s shelter. The attack left Sifton with several injuries including a fracture to the right side of his skull thought to be the fatal blow.
The court heard that earlier that day Sifton and Abraham had been drinking together without issue. Abraham then went to nap in the backyard and woke up to Sifton kicking him in the head with a steel-toed boot.
Defence lawyer Austin Corbett argued Abraham’s level of intoxication impaired his decision making. “The science backs up that we should have an intoxication defence,” he said in his final submissions last month. “Intoxication equates automatism.”
Crown Prosecutor Morgan Fane, however, said in trial that Abraham had “murder in his heart” while assaulting Sifton. In his submissions, he told the court that Abraham intended to kill Sifton because he said several times that he did.
In delivering his decision, Mahar said that if not for repeated comments about wanting to kill him, this would be a simple decision of manslaughter.
Ultimately Mahar ruled that Abraham was “agitated” and “provoked” but that he did not intend murder.
“He meant to give (Sifton) a beating but did not want to kill him,” he said.
Mahar listed a number of facts that brought him to his decision.
Among what he found to be most convincing was Abraham’s repeatedly telling Sifton to “get up” throughout the assault. One witness testified that she heard Abraham tell Sifton to “get up” as many as a hundred times.
Mahar told the court of two findings from Abraham’s telling Sifton to get up.
First, that he did not realize how badly Sifton had been injured. Second, that he wanted Sifton to return to standing so they could continue fighting.
“He did not want to kill him, which he could easily have done while (Sifton) was on the ground,” Mahar said.
Abraham admitted to using a five-pound hand weight as a weapon in the assault.
Mahar cited a testimony from a pathologist during trial. He said that there appeared to be at least four injuries from the weight, including the fatal blow.
None of the witnesses noticed a weapon being used, which Mahar said led him to believe that the “blows with the weight occurred at the beginning of the violence, while Sifton was still conscious.”
Second degree murder requires an intention to kill or intention to cause bodily harm likely to result in death.
Mahar told the court that while the weight is evidently dangerous, it is not inherently a lethal weapon, and not substantially more dangerous than kicking someone in the head with steel-toed boots.
“This is yet another tragic event that the court has to deal with,” Mahar said. “This event springs from addictions and trauma. I don’t need to reflect on how many times I’ve dealt with cases like this but it is always sad when I do.”
A pre-sentence report (PSR) was ordered to provide information on Abraham’s background ahead of sentencing. A date for sentencing will be set in six weeks once the PSR has been prepared.