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‘He is a miracle’: Whitehorse mother of shooting victim reflects as attempted murder trial continues

Victim’s mother has been watching trial of alleged shooter intently.
The interior of a Whitehorse courtroom. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

As Viola Papequash sits in the courtroom where the man who allegedly shot her son in late 2019 is on trial, she says she draws strength from her son’s expectation-defying recovery.

Papequash has been present in the gallery for every day of the trial of Malakal Tuel and Joseph Wuor, clutching an eagle feather throughout and watching the proceedings intently.

Tuel is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault related to the shooting of John Thomas (JT) Papequash as well as charges relating to the possession of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking, cash derived from crime and firearms-related offences.

Wuor, arrested the same day as Tuel, is also in court facing cocaine, firearm and cash derived from crime possession charges.

Viola told the News that her son has made a relatively swift recovery since December 2019.

“It’s a miracle really. All of us realize he is a miracle,” Viola said.

Following a grim initial outlook on his chances for surviving his injuries despite being medevaced to Vancouver, Viola said her son was back in Whitehorse within two months and out of hospital completely within five months.

Viola said considering the severity of JT’s injuries, he has made great strides with overcoming the effects of his injuries and his hospital stay. She said he has grown stronger physically and is no longer emotionally withdrawn, as he was shortly after his release from hospital. Viola added that her son’s memory is also very intact, with the notable exception of the night of the shooting which she said he has next to no recollections of.

“It’s been a journey of healing, for him, for all of us,” she said.

The trial of Tuel and Wuor began on May 30 and reopened for its second week on June 6. It is presided over by chief justice Suzanne Duncan in a courtroom less than 50 metres from where the shooting took place, in front of a Jarvis Street bar.

The trial ended its first week and began its second by hearing from additional witnesses who described the scene outside the bar in the moments before and after the shooting.

Cross-examination from Tuel’s defence lawyer dealt with evidence presented on the stand by one of the witnesses regarding the identity of a man seen with a gun outside the bar that conflicted with an earlier statement given to police.

An acquaintance of Tuel’s who saw him the night of the shooting also took the stand. The man who had occasionally hung out with Tuel in the months before the shooting was not interviewed by police until ten months afterward. On the witness stand, he described calling Tuel to see if he wanted to hang out sometime after he saw police lights outside the 202, which was visible from his home.

The acquaintance said he picked up Tuel and another man near the Black Street stairs and was asked to drive them first towards Riverdale and then up to the Whitehorse airport as the two men spoke in a language the witness could not understand. He said the men he picked up made no mention of where they had been earlier that night.

The witness described driving up to the airport where Tuel got out of his truck and walked around nearby. He then dropped the men off at a truck which was parked in the nearly empty lot near Rotary Park before going home.

Cross examination of the witness dealt largely with his description of the vehicle that he dropped Tuel and the other man off at. The witness maintained the truck was a Dodge.

As the week went on, the court heard from RCMP officers involved in the investigation into the shooting. Forensic identification section (FIS) officer Sgt. Vanessa Philpott testified about crime scene photos taken by her and other officers.

Among other elements of the scene, the photos show a bloodstain on the sidewalk outside the bar’s front door partially covered by an RCMP jacket with a spent nine-millimetre shell casing nearby. An unfired nine-millimetre round was also found near the building’s southeast corner.

Philpott testified that a hole in an exterior wall of the bar was tested for lead and copper but did not come back positive.

A second FIS officer, Cpl. Caroline LeDuke, who was on the scene at the 202 before Philpott arrived, also testified about her actions during the investigation. Under cross examination LeDuke explained how the scene was secured by RCMP officers but said her recommendation over the phone that some areas be covered with tarps prior to her arrival was not followed.

Philpott’s testimony also included commentary on photos taken at the Carcross-area residence where Tuel was renting. Along with photos of the interior and exterior of the home, RCMP photos showed the locations in or near a silver Toyota Tacoma parked nearby where a pistol, a fanny pack filled with cash and another bag that contained cocaine were found during a police search of the vehicle.

The court also heard from RCMP officers Cst. Geremy Newbury and Cpl. Martin Fry who were tasked with securing the truck ahead of the arrival of investigators. Newbury testified he spotted the pistol tucked under the truck’s passenger seat while leaning into the truck’s open driver’s side door to switch off its headlights. Fry also testified to seeing the pistol after Newbury told him to look in the passenger side.

The Crown’s presentation of evidence in the case is expected to be concluded by week’s end. It was unclear as of the end of the June 7 court session if the defence will call any witnesses of their own. Lawyers and the judge discussed submitting written arguments due to the number and complexity of the charges but a timeline for this was not firmly set on June 7.

READ MORE: Trial for men tied to shooting outside downtown Whitehorse bar begins

READ MORE: Witnesses take the stand in trial for 2019 shooting outside Whitehorse bar

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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