‘King is the killer:’ Crown, defence make closing arguments in murder trial

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Denecho King’s quest to continue partying in the early hours of Dec.14, 2014 led him to a Yellowknife apartment where he “viciously” attacked two best friends, the Crown prosecutor told the court Friday during closing arguments after a four-week murder trial.

“On that night, King wanted to party,” said prosecutor Alex Godfrey.

Godfrey, revisiting trial evidence and witness testimony that mapped the movements of King on that fateful December night, said the accused – on trial for second degree murder and attempted murder – bounced from one party to another in a violent and alcohol-fueled night that began at Fort Gary apartments and ended at the Northern Lites motel.

“He partied, he threw a chair, he broke a window and he assaulted a woman in a cab. By 4 a.m., he’s at Sunridge Place – banging on doors. He ends up at (Colin) Digness’ unit,” said Godfrey.

Digness, along with his longtime friend John Wifladt, were found lying bloodied and barely breathing near two ornamental swords in a third floor Sunridge Place apartment unit – less than half an hour after a witness testified King had knocked on the door of her apartment, located one floor below Digness.

Wifladt later died, while Digness survived, sustaining life-altering injuries as a result of the attack.

King’s presence at the scene of the crime is known, Godfrey said, because a “surprisingly significant” amount of his DNA was found on the handles of both swords – the weapons used to kill Wifladt and seriously injure Digness. “He handled the sword during the murder,” said Godfrey.

Crown prosecutor Alex Godfrey, in background, said circumstantial evidence against King, including witnesses and DNA linking him to the crime scene, leaves only one conclusion: “King is the killer.” Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.

The DNA of Digness and Wifladt were located on the blades of the swords.

“And what does (King) do after he left them for dead? He continues to look for a party at Northern Lites motel. He brags about the attack. He acts it out. He’s proud. He’s excited,” Godfrey said.

“That’s the night of the man who ruthlessly attacked two childhood friends. The night of the killer.”

After summarizing the Crown’s case against King – based on circumstantial evidence drawn from 37 witnesses and 54 exhibits over 20 days – the prosecutor focused on key testimony previously challenged by King’s lawyer, Jay Bran.

Citing expert testimony from Kenneth Hunter who took the stand last week, Godfrey maintained King’s DNA made its way onto the swords through direct contact, calling Bran’s suggestion it could have been transferred indirectly as a result of careless crime scene handling, or by the victims themselves, “seemingly impossible.”

For Bran’s scenario to be plausible, Godfrey said one hundred people would have had to touch the sword with King’s DNA to add up to the amount observed.

“The whole science of DNA would have to be rejected,” Godfrey said, adding. “we don’t know why or what exactly happened in the unit, but we do know what happened. The only one rational conclusion is that King is the killer.”

Bran, standing to make his final arguments before Justice Andrew Mahar in a packed courtroom, presented a starkly different version of what happened on Dec.14, 2014 – one he said wouldn’t require the court to make inferences, unlike the Crown’s submissions.

King’s lawyer pins blame on survivor, suggesting play fight turned deadly

“Sometimes the answer to a problem is the most simple of explanations,” said Bran.

After a night of drinking, Bran suggested, an intoxicated Digness and Wifladt arrived at Sunridge Place apartments. “They were angry, upset. They wanted to party more,” said Bran, pointing to previous testimony from the cab driver who dropped the pair off. The driver testified the two friends were laughing and arguing in the taxi, and that he feared Wifladt was becoming aggressive.

“They arrive. Maybe they’re still arguing like they were in the cab. Something happens. Maybe Digness grabs the sword, starts swinging.”

What could have began as play fighting took a serious turn, Bran said – worsened by the pair’s intoxication which removed “care and caution from the equation.”

“Their aim could be off,” said Bran, before likening the scenario to an impaired driving wreck.
“But instead of crashing cars, they’re crashing swords into bodies.”

Defence lawyer Jay Bran, left, suggested Friday Colin Digness, who survived a 2014 attack King, right, is accused on committing, is responsible for the death of his friend John Wifladt after a play fight with swords turned deadly.  Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.

Throughout the trial, Bran hovered around the idea that Digness and Wifladt could have gotten carried away while playing with the swords, injuring each other in the process. In his closing arguments, Bran doubled down on the theory.

“In my respectful submission, the person responsible was in this courtroom – and it’s Colin Digness,” said Bran, adding Wifladt could have been partly responsible for the “tragedy,” but that he “isn’t here to answer for it. Digness is.”

Digness, who testified in the early stages of the trial, said he had no memory of the attack, but balked at the idea it could have been carried out by him and his best friend.

“Friends got carried away and we know what the results were,” Bran said. “King simply didn’t do it.”

To consider Bran’s scenario, Godfrey said the court would have to accept that “two best friends, who only bickered over hockey and video games, would then decide to fight to the death, transferring an unbelievable amount of King’s DNA in the process.”

Bran, who, throughout the trial, routinely questioned the steps law enforcement took to prevent crime scene “contamination,” again asked the court to consider the way evidence was handled, focusing on the swords being moved not long after the bloody discovery was made.

While the first RCMP officer to arrive at the scene testified he moved one sword as a way of ensuring safety in a still-fluid situation, two crime scene photos showed the swords to be in two different positions – movements witness Sgt. Brandon Humbke admitted were “unexplained,” under cross-examination.

Bran characterized the unexplained shift as more carelessness from first responders, who initially didn’t wear foot protection as they worked in the unit.

After calling a number of the Crown’s witnesses unreliable and not credible – particularly a witness who said King had told him he’d “killed two people,” – Bran focused on the lack of physical evidence pinning King to the crimes.
Bran conceded to King’s DNA being on the swords, but asked Mahar to consider how, when, and by whom and in what manner it got there.

“No fingerprints, nothing physical except for DNA – and there’s so many ways it could have gotten into the unit,” Bran said.

Bran had suggested King, who was injured after cutting himself at Fort Gary apartments earlier in the night, could have left blood at the apartment complex when knocking on the second floor door – blood that could have been unwittingly collected and transferred at the crime scene.

It’s up to the Crown to convince Mahar that King is guilty of the crimes he’s charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. From dayone, the Crown said no motive would be provided, and that their case would rely on circumstantial evidence.

If found guilty, King faces a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Mahar is expected to make a decision on July 6.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.