A “love triangle” was at the centre of a 2015 confrontation in Burwash Landing that allegedly led to one man swinging an axe at another before “chopping up” his car, a Whitehorse courtroom heard earlier this week.
Fifty-nine-year-old Douglas Twiss, of Burwash Landing, stands accused of assault with a weapon, uttering death threats and mischief causing damage worth more than $5,000. The charges stem from an alleged incident that took place April 8, 2015, Crown prosecutor Ludovic Gouaillier told the jury in his opening address Sept. 25, during which Twiss allegedly swung an axe at Haines Junction man Gerard Desjardins, 59, cutting the side of Desjardins’ right hand, before taking the axe to Desjardins’ 2011 Buick Regal.
Desjardins, who recorded audio of that day using an iPod tucked into his pocket because he “didn’t know what would happen,” testified the alleged axe episode occured following a heated discussion at Twiss’ trailer about a woman they were both romantically involved with. Earlier that year, Desjardins said, he’d taken a trip to Vietnam, during which the woman he was seeing had sex with Twiss, reportedly in Desjardins’ bed. Desjardins said he told the woman that Twiss was a “wife-beater” and had Hepatitis C, claims which got back to Twiss.
After he returned from Vietnam, Desjardins said Twiss phoned him and said he wanted to “resolve” things “man-to-man.” Desjardins testified he had arranged for a place to meet Twiss but didn’t tell him the time or date, and so drove roughly 120 kilometres from Haines Junction to Twiss’ trailer.
Once there, Desjardins said, things “didn’t go well.”
The Crown played 23 profanity-laden minutes of Desjardins’ recording for the jury Sept. 26. At the beginning, Desjardins says he’s just entered Burwash Landing and is heading to Twiss’ house to “resolve some issues.” The sound of driving stops. Desjardins is heard stepping out of his car and walking up to Twiss’ trailer; the conversation quickly devolves into a heated argument where the men trade vulgar insults and make crude accusations about the other and the woman.
“I was half a world away…. I couldn’t come up here and smack you,” Desjardins says at one point.
“Do you really think I care about much since I lost my son? … I won’t be fucking bullied or threatened,” Twiss replies.
Throughout the recording, Desjardins repeatedly accuses Twiss of having sex with the woman in his bed and warns Twiss to stay away from his house. Twiss, meanwhile, denies having Hepatitis C or being a “wife-beater,” and tells Desjardins several times to “get the fuck out of here.”
Suddenly, there’s a sound of a scuffle accompanied by lots of swearing, with Twiss at one point screaming, “You fucker! (I’ll) fucking cut your fucking throat!”
Desjardins testified that as he was leaving, Twiss pulled out two putty knives from a toolbox near his door and made the threat before throwing the putty knives at him. Twiss then picked up an axe outside and began swinging it back and forth, Desjardins said. Desjardins testified that he stood his ground, believing Twiss was “bluffing” until it looked like the axe was about to come down on his head. At that point, Desjardins said, he took a step back and instinctively held up his right arm in self defence, which is when the axe cut him.
Desjardins said he moved to the passenger’s side of his car, attempting to keep the vehicle between himself and Twiss. Desjardins testified Twiss then began “chopping up” his car, swinging the axe at the windshield, hood and driver’s side headlight. Desjardins said he was able to get into his car shortly after and drove away to the Kluane First Nation office to seek help.
Twiss’ defence attorney Vincent Larochelle, however, suggested a very different version of events during his cross-examination of Desjardins.
Larochelle played a different part of Desjardins’ recording, taken after he’d arrived at the KFN office. At the end of the clip, Desjardins says, “it’s still going,” and chuckles before turning the iPod off. Larochelle suggested that Desjardins, angry at the woman’s infidelity, had made the recording to “get back” at Twiss and went into the situation intending to provoke him, claims Desjardins denied.
Larochelle also questioned why Desjardins didn’t just walk to his car and drive away once the situation escalated, especially as Twiss has a prosthetic leg that prevents him from moving quickly. Desjardins replied that he thought Twiss might throw the axe if he turned his back on him.
At the peak of the cross-examination, Larochelle suggested that it was impossible for the axe to have made contact with Desjardins’ hand without cutting it off. Instead, he asked Desjardins if, instead of walking back to his car, he was actually walking towards Twiss’ house, at which point Twiss threw the putty knives at Desjardins and he attempted to block them with his hands.
Desjardins insisted that he had been cut with the axe.
Larochelle replayed the recording of the scuffle and asked if two dull crashing sounds are actually the putty knives hitting the ground. Desjardins replied that he didn’t know what the sounds were.
Larochelle again suggested the axe never touched Desjardins. Desjardins again insisted it had.
Larochelle then approached the witness stand with a black laptop bag in hand and, after unzipping it, pulled out two large, rectangular putty knives. Holding one in each hand, he asked if Desjardins recognized them; Desjardins said the putty knives Twiss had thrown at him were smaller.
Larochelle handed one of the putty knives to Desjardins, and asked if the edge was sharp. Desjardins, pressing a finger to the blade, said it could probably cut someone if it was thrown at them.
Larochelle asked Desjardins if the two putty knives were what actually cut his hand. Desjardins said no.
The trial continues Sept. 27.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org