Michael Nehass found guilty

On Friday afternoon, a Yukon Supreme Court jury found the 31-year-old guilty of assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and breaching probation.

Michael Nehass has been found guilty of assaulting a woman in Watson Lake nearly three and a half years ago.

On Friday afternoon, a Yukon Supreme Court jury found the 31-year-old guilty of assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and breaching probation.

They found him not guilty of uttering death threats.

It took the jury about five and a half hours to come back with a verdict.

The trial spanned two weeks and included testimony from the victim, Agnes Reid, who said Nehass dragged her into an apartment, hit her, grabbed her by the throat and threatened her with a knife.

In court Nehass denied that any of this happened. He represented himself, but the court appointed a lawyer to help.

Lawyer Bibhas Vaze and Nehass argued that the story of the alleged victim was unbelievable. Reid had no serious injuries, despite claims that the attack went on for 30 to 45 minutes, no knife was ever found and no one in the building complained of any noise that day.

A woman who took the stand claiming to have witnessed the attack told the police nothing about it.

Much of Nehass’s history was kept from the jury. They were not told that he has spent most of his time at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre segregated away from anyone else. According to documents filed in a territorial court case, officials say his behavior has escalated to the point where he can’t be managed anywhere else.

They also did not know that last year he was brought shackled and naked to a video court appearance. The judge later apologized for not ending the appearance as soon as he realized Nehass was naked.

His father has since filed a human rights complaint over his treatment. No date for that hearing has been set yet.

Another thing the jury did not hear was that right before the Crown closed its case, Nehass tried to change his pleas to guilty.

Against the advice of Vaze, Nehass said he just wanted to “get this done with.”

The judge told Nehass the court needed to be satisfied that the pleas were being made voluntary.

He needs to agree to the basic facts, Justice Scott Brooker said.

“Sure, fine, sure,” Nehass replied.

He later told the judge: “I agree to your facts. I bow down to you.”

By the end of the lengthy exchange, even prosecutor Terri Kaur said the voluntary part of the guilty plea was “certainly not clear.”

Vaze also told the judge he would have “great discomfort accepting guilty pleas.”

The judge went through each charge and Nehass agreed he committed each one.

But in the end Brooker ruled he was not comfortable accepting guilty pleas based on what he had heard and the evidence.

Now that Nehass has been found guilty, the Crown has asked to have him assessed for either a long-term or dangerous offender designation.

If that is granted, it could impact the length of time he is on probation after being released.

A long-term offender status means a maximum probation sentence of 10 years. A dangerous offender designation could mean anything from a longer probation period to a lifetime prison sentence.

Earlier this year Nehass was sentenced for crimes he committed while in custody at the Whitehorse jail.

That includes assaulting a corrections officer by spitting on him, attempting to break out of the segregation unit and doing more than $35,000 worth of damage.

During that trial, Nehass asked a territorial court judge to consider whether his treatment in jail violated his rights, including the protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

That application was never finished because a deal was worked out. Nehass said he planned to file a charter application again in Supreme Court. He did that on Friday.

The judge encouraged Nehass to get help from Vaze with the application.

Nehass has been in jail since December 2011. The lawyer told the court he sees two charter applications Nehass could consider making, one based on the length of time it has taken for the trial to happen and another based on the time he has spent in confinement.

Assuming the situation has not changed since his territorial court appearance, Nehass has not been part of the jail’s general population since May 2013.

No date for a sentencing hearing has been set yet.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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