A pair of brothers from Burwash Landing have been found guilty of unlawful confinement as part of an ongoing feud between two families in the small community.
Derek Johnson and former Kluane First Nation chief Wilfred Sheldon were convicted of unlawfully confining Collin Johnson. Their sentencing has been tentatively scheduled for January.
The courtroom was packed Tuesday as Justice Colleen Kenny delivered her verdict. Some people gasped, some applauded and others began to cry.
It may never be 100 per cent clear what happened that night in August of last year. Collin Johnson committed suicide five months later.
The teen’s death has weighed heavily on the situation.
One man, Weldon Danroth, is already serving an 18-month sentence for beating up Derek Johnson as a form of vigilante justice.
According to court documents in that case, Collin had told Danroth he had been attacked by Johnson and Sheldon.
“Mr. Danroth felt that Collin would not report what had happened to the police and nothing would be done,” the judge said at Danroth’s sentencing in January.
Both Sheldon and Johnson were originally facing a string of other charges including aggravated assault. After a preliminary hearing following Collin’s death only the unlawful confinement charge went to court.
Tension got so bad in the community of less than 100 that the Sheldon and Johnson’s defence lawyer successfully applied to have the trial moved from Burwash Landing to Whitehorse.
He argued that there was a real risk of violence if the trial was allowed to take place in the community. The judge agreed.
“I accept that there is a real risk of violence after court closes. There is clear evidence of past retaliation in this small community where violence has become common-place and is fuelled by alcohol and a long-standing family feud,” Justice Ron Veale said in making the decision to move the trial.
Both Sheldon and Johnson are under a court order to stay away from Burwash Landing.
Monday’s trial heard from only two witnesses.
Austin Dickson described going to a party with Collin Johnson on the night of Aug. 8, 2013.
He said he and Collin left the party but turned around to pick up a forgotten pair of sunglasses.
Dickson claimed the two men grabbed Collin and held him against the wall, preventing him from leaving even when he asked to be let go.
Dickson said he tried to help his friend but was forced away and locked out of the house.
He testified that the next day Collin appeared bruised.
Dickson didn’t say anything about the incident until January.
The defence’s only witness was Claudia Bob, Wilfred Sheldon’s common-law partner.
She testified that she came to pick up Sheldon the next day and saw no evidence of a confrontation.
Later that day she saw the same group together again and testified they appeared to all be getting along.
In her decision, Kenny said the two testimonies do not necessarily contradict each other.
There’s no way to know what happened after Dickson left the house, she said.
The issue is that Collin asked to leave and was prevented from doing so.
While this might not be the most serious of cases, it still qualifies as unlawful confinement, she said.
Prosecutor Keith Parkkari said he expects the family will want to file victim impact statements before the men are sentenced. Others may want to speak at the sentencing hearing itself.
If all goes as planned, that will take place on Jan. 23.
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