Douglas Twiss, from Burwash Landing, arrives in court. Twiss is charged with attacking a Haines Junction man with an axe, uttering threats, and smashing the man’s car windshield. (Jesse Winter/ Yukon News)

Burwash Landing man cleared in axe attack trial

A jury found Douglas Twiss not guilty of assault with a weapon and uttering threats but guilty of mischief

A Whitehorse jury has found Burwash Landing man guilty Sept. 29 of mischief causing over $5,000 in damage, but cleared him of two other charges in relation a 2015 confrontation at his trailer that ended with him taking an axe to another man’s car.

A 12-person jury found Douglas Twiss, 59, not guilty of assault with a weapon — an axe — and uttering death threats, but guilty of mischief. The decision came after a half-day of deliberation following a four-day trial that began Sept. 25.

In a sentencing hearing the same day, Justice Stephen Kelleher gave Twiss a suspended sentence with six months’ probation, with conditions including keeping the peace, reporting to Haines Junction RCMP daily should he be in town, a no-contact order with Desjardins and his son and a $500 restitution to cover the cost of Desjardins’ insurance premium.

Twiss did not appear to react when a juror read the verdicts, but, after the jury left the room, he stood up, smiling, and shook his lawyers’ hands.

“I’m so wound up right now,” Twiss told reporters minutes later. “In fact, I feel like I’m about to cry.”

He added that he thought the jury did a “good job” with “deciding my fate,” and that he just wanted to spend time with his family.

The complainant, 59-year-old Gerard Desjardins of Haines Junction, was also in the courtroom for the verdict. He did not react as it was read out, but left the courtroom immediately afterwards.

Desjardins had testified during the trial that following a heated discussion at Twiss’ trailer about a woman, Twiss had threatened to cut his throat while holding putty knives before attacking him with an axe. Desjardins said the axe had cut the side of his right hand as he held his arm up to defend himself and that Twiss then took the axe to his 2011 Buick Regal, causing $6,800 in damage.

Crown prosecutor Ludovic Gouaillier had described the incident as having been sparked by a “love triangle,” a term, he said in his closing address, he regretted using because it “trivialized” the situation.

Whether it was “a love triangle or love circle,” though, isn’t relevant, Gouaillier said — whatever the background situation, it led to two men coming together to have an argument. Arguments of passion happen all the time, he continued, but what happened in this case crossed a line, and Desjardins’ testimony was “solid” and made sense.

“You don’t settle arguments with an axe,” Gouaillier said.

Twiss and his lawyer, Vincent Larochelle, however, told the court a different version of events had taken place, one where Twiss was acting in self-defence.

According to Twiss, Desjardins left the trailer following the conversation and started walking back to his car, but along the way, stopped and squeezed the handle of an axe in Twiss’ yard. Twiss said out of frustration, he grabbed a clothes iron and threw it into some nearby trees, at which point Desjardins turned around and started coming back towards the trailer.

Knowing he wouldn’t win a fist-fight against Desjardins — Twiss has one prosthetic leg and weighs 130 pounds compared to Desjardins’ 280 — Twiss said he grabbed a tray of drywall tools, including two large putty knives, and tossed them at Desjardins, who deflected the items with his right hand.

Twiss said that bought him time to get to the axe, which he started waving from side-to-side. Desjardins’ reaction, Twiss said, was to head towards Twiss’ truck where he kept tools that could’ve been used as weapons and so, knowing Desjardins was “materialistic,” smashed one of his car’s headlights with the axe to draw him away.

Twiss said it worked, and as Desjardins began walking back to his car, Twiss thought “fuck it,” and took the axe to the car’s hood and windshield.

Desjardins secretly recorded the entire interaction with an iPod tucked in his pocket, 23 profanity-laden minutes of which the Crown entered as evidence and which became central in both the Crown and defence cases.

In the clip, what starts off as a seemingly civil conversation quickly descends into a heated, insult-filled back-and-forth, with Desjardins accusing Twiss of sleeping with the woman in his bed and Twiss angry that Desjardins had told the woman he had Hepatitis C and was a “wife-beater,” claims he said aren’t true. Suddenly, there’s the sound of a scuffle paired with lots of swearing, with Twiss heard screaming, “You fucker! (I’ll) fucking cut your fucking throat!” while Desjardins screams back, “Fuck off, Doug!”

This story has been updated.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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