A Yellowknife man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault moments before his trial was set to begin has been handed a three-year sentence for what prosecutors called a “violent and traumatic” attack committed against a woman in her own home.
Darnell Kakfwi, 33, changed his plea on Tuesday, the same day he was set to be tried by a judge alone in NWT Supreme Court in Yellowknife.
On Oct. 25, 2017, the court heard, the victim allowed Kakfwi to stay overnight at her house in Yellowknife. When she attempted to go upstairs, Kakfwi grabbed her.
Kakfwi proceeded to rape the woman – while her mother slept upstairs.
At one point, Kakfwi held her neck as he raped her and threatened to kill her if she screamed.
Kakfwi, who was on early release from an offence committed just months before, was arrested hours later. The victim’s DNA was found on Kakfwi’s boxer shorts.
He’s been in custody ever since.
‘I can’t keep holding onto the hate’
“I don’t trust people,” the woman wrote in a victim impact statement, read aloud in court on Wednesday. “I don’t want to go outside.”
The victim began drinking heavily and lost focus on her studies after being sexually assaulted, she continued.
“I have forgiven him,” she wrote, adding she still regards Kakfwi with disgust but “can’t keep holding on to the hate.”
NWT Supreme Court Justice Louise Charbonneau, who settled on the three-year sentencing recommendation from prosecutor Morgan Fane – who said Kakfwi “needs to be separated from society,” said the myriad of complex feelings and struggles faced by sexual abuse victims are reflected in the woman’s statement: losing trust in people, feeling hatred, wanting to move on but not knowing how.
Charbonneau said the attack was a “serious violation of her personal and sexual integrity,” made worse by the fact it happened in the woman’s own home, “the one place she should have been able to feel the safest.”
Fane said the victim’s mother is “guilt stricken” because she was sleeping upstairs when her daughter was raped.
The perpetrator has a lengthy criminal record, one that includes numerous convictions for violent offences. Kakfwi made headlines in 2004 when he was convicted of manslaughter at the age of 19.
He served three years for the crime, but his behaviour didn’t change upon his release.
“Far from it,” noted Charbonneau, who pointed to multiple convictions Kakfwi accrued in Yellowknife in the late 2000s, including assault with a weapon and a trio of convictions for assault causing bodily harm.
Kakfwi had no prior convictions for sexual assault.
“But sexual assault is a crime of violence,” said Charbonneau.
Upbringing ‘nothing short of tragic’
Growing up in Fort Good Hope in the shadow of the residential school system – both his parents and grandparents attended the institutions – one of Kakfwi’s first memories was seeing his mother’s blood splattered on the walls of their home, said his defence lawyer Leslie Moore.
His mother and stepfather were “lost in a world of alcoholism,” said Moore.
To escape violence at home, Kakfwi and his mother would stay at safe houses. Often, he’d be left to find food at the homes of relatives.
Charbonneau, who called Kakfwi’s upbringing “tragic and heartbreaking,” said it’s no surprise – even “predictable” – that the offender turned to alcohol and drugs at an early age.
Ten years ago, Kakfwi moved to Yellowknife in an effort to turn his life around, but as his lawyer said, “addiction had full control of his life.”
Standing to address the court Wednesday, Kakfwi said he’s “powerless” over his addiction to alcohol. He said he has a vague recollection of the assault he committed due to being intoxicated, but that he accepts the victim’s account of the attack.
“There’s nothing I can do to change it, but I am sorry,” said Kakfwi, adding all his convictions have been “alcohol-related.”
Charbonneau, who sentenced Kakfwi to the “absolute minimum,” the court could impose after weighing systemic factors and his own background and circumstances as an Indigenous offender, said it’s a “virtual certainty,” he’ll be back before the courts if he doesn’t seek help for his addictions issues. Charbonneau noted alcohol played a role in his manslaughter conviction, too.
“You have a lot of life ahead of you,” she told Kakfwi.
Kakfwi has spent just over 20 months in custody. With a 1.5 day credit for every day spent in jail, that amounts to two years and six months, meaning he has six months left to serve.
He’ll be on probation for two years after his release.
Kakfwi must register as a sex offender for the next 20 years, and is barred from possessing weapons for 15 years after his release. He cannot contact or attend the resident or workplace of the victim or her mother.