Convicted killer Denecho King received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 12 years on Monday.
King, 26, nodded, showing little emotion as he was sentenced by NWT Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar in a crowded and tightly secured Yellowknife courtroom.
Behind King, next to a cluster of supporters, his mother wept. On the other side of the aisle, family members of John Wifladt – the 39-year-old slain by King in a brutal and unprovoked attack – held each other while holding back tears.
On Dec. 14, 2014, King, then 22, entered the Sundridge Place Apartments unit of Colin Digness, who was inside with Wifladt, his longtime friend. Inside, King used two ornamental-style swords, displayed on a stand in Digness’ apartment, to fatally stab Wifladt.
Digness was also attacked, but survived, suffering lasting physical and emotional wounds. The two friends were strangers to King and a motive for the attack was never established.
King was convicted in July of second-degree murder for the killing of Wifladt, and aggravated assault for his attack on Digness. Second-degree murder charges carry life sentences with no chance of parole for a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 25 years.
In deciding how long King will be behind bars before he can apply for parole, Mahar settled on the lower end of what he called the “murder spectrum.” The 12-year period handed down by Mahar was five years less than the sentence sought by prosecutors.
King’s lawyer asked the court to consider parole after 10 to 12 years.
King received a 10-year concurrent sentence Friday for his aggravated assault conviction, which will run at the same time as his second-degree murder sentence.
Mahar said the deadly rampage most likely began with King “simply looking to party.” King, who drank and committed violent outbursts before the killing, could have come in contact with Wifladt and Digness as the friends made their way up to Digness’ apartment.
Maybe he was asked to leave, an argument ensued, and King lost his temper, grabbing two of the largest blades to attack both men, said Mahar. The most likely scenario, Mahar said, is also the least sinister on King’s part, and speaks to the spontaneous nature of the attack.
Mahar called Wifladt and Digness “entirely innocent.”
By “putting their sadness on paper,” Mahar said family and friends of the victims demonstrated “how much harm, suffering, and pain King’s actions have caused.”
Mahar called Wifladt a “gentle, thoughtful and productive,” person who played an integral role in his family.
Mahar said he considered the aggravating factors of the attack itself and the circumstances and background of King as an Indigenous offender. King is of Chipewyan descent.
Mahar noted King was on probation for another violent attack when he murdered Wifladt less than a month after his release. Mahar also cited King’s lengthy and relevant criminal record, which contains a total of 38 convictions – 10 for violence.
Mahar said he weighed these factors with King’s “extremely difficult” upbringing, marked by “violence, chaos and deprivation.” King was sent away for behavioral treatment three times, first when he was a young child, the court heard.
“I don’t think he ever felt part of our family,” wrote King’s brother in a pre-sentence report cited Friday. “He was always getting sent away.”
In coming to his decision, Mahar said the offender’s insight into his own behavior, along with his goals for the future, show there’s still hope for rehabilitation.
“It isn’t quite the closure we wanted,” John Wifladt’s father, Jack Wifladt, told reporters outside the Yellowknife courthouse.
“We would have sooner seen (Mahar) take it closer to what the Crown wanted. But it’s the judge’s call and we’ll live with it,” said Wifladt.
He said his view of his son’s killer hasn’t changed.
“A lot of us has bad upbringings or whatever but that’s no excuse for what you do,” he said.
Wifladt, who told reporters he’s seen no remorse from King, said he may have viewed him differently had he “just even faced us and said I’m very sorry.”
“But that never came.”
King must provide a sample of his DNA and is barred from possessing firearms for life.