The sentencing hearing for one of two men who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for their roles in the 2017 killing of Wilfred “Dickie” Charlie in his Carmacks home began in Whitehorse July 23.
Mario Rueben Skookum, originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter later last year.
His cousin and co-accused, Tyler Aaron Skookum, followed suit in the middle of his trial in April.
In an affidavit and admissions of fact read to the court by Crown attorney Lauren Whyte, Mario admitted that he was drinking with Tyler and another person the night of June 18, 2017, and in the early morning of June 19, found themselves without any more alcohol.
The three went to Charlie’s house to see if he had any alcohol, but when they arrived, Charlie said he didn’t have any.
The document says Mario does not have a “full recollection” of what happened next, but that the Skookums thought Charlie was lying and decided to take his alcohol.
Mario was holding Charlie down by placing a pillow on his back and kneeling on it when Tyler emerged from the kitchen with a knife and began stabbing Charlie.
The affidavit says Mario got off Charlie and pushed the pillow off, at first thinking that Tyler was punching Charlie; he was “shocked” when he realized Tyler was stabbing him.
At some point, Charlie got up and ran out of his house with Tyler following him, and when Mario went outside, Charlie had collapsed and Tyler was moving him.
Mario later told a police officer that he had helped move Charlie to the Yukon River after Tyler threatened him, not knowing whether Charlie was dead or alive. He stopped helping after he “realized what I was doing” and Tyler pushed Charlie into the river by himself.
Mario doesn’t have an “independent recollection” of moving Charlie’s body and Tyler pushing him into the river, according to the document, but doesn’t dispute that it happened.
In victim impact statements read to the court by a victim services worker, members of Charlie’s family described the 57-year-old as a provider, someone who was popular in the community and had a “fun, teasing, laughing way.”
Charlie’s older sister, Vera, wrote in her statement that he was extremely close to her. Their family had grown up on the land and Charlie learned to hunt, fish, gather medicine and run a dog team, she wrote, the latter skill which he didn’t have a chance to pass on to anyone.
Whenever he had a big smile on his face, Vera wrote, she knew it meant he had traditional meat for her, and he kept her freezer full with salmon and moose.
Her freezer, she said, has been empty since 2017.
Charlie had built his own house, Vera wrote, and was pleased with how solid it was. While there were good memories of having gatherings there, they were tainted by the fact that he was killed in the house, and the family ultimately decided to burn it down because “the memories were too strong.”
The victim impact statements all expressed fear about Tyler and Mario one day returning to the community, with the writers saying they didn’t feel either had shown remorse for what they’d done.
A community impact statement said that Charlie’s killing has deeply divided the community, with separation, anger, fear and sadness felt at all community gatherings and events. People are worried about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person out of fear of retaliation, according to the statement, and there’s also shame and fear over being stereotyped for having a certain last name.
The community also experienced a cultural loss, the statement said, as Charlie was a traditional language speaker.
Mario, who was sitting next to his lawyer, started crying as the statements were read, eventually crumpling into his chair.
Justice Edith Campbell called an early lunch break after he was unable to compose himself.
The Crown and defence began their sentencing arguments in the afternoon.
Whyte said the Crown was asking for a five-year sentence, with Mario to receive about two and a half years of credit for time already served.
Among the aggravating factors in the case was the fact that Charlie was killed in his own home, which should be a place of safety and sanctuary, Wyte said, and without provocation. She also noted Skookum’s criminal record, which includes prior convictions of assault and sexual assault, but said it was mitigating that Mario pleaded guilty and has previously expressed remorse for his role in Charlie’s death.
Whyte also asked that, if Campbell should issue a probation order, it should be for a period of three years and should include clauses to abstain from alcohol, prohibit contact with members of Charlie’s family and require him to report to the RCMP before visiting Carmacks.
The latter clause, she said, is not intended to penalize Mario but to give the community a warning so that it’s not taken by surprise when he shows up.
Mario’s lawyer, meanwhile, asked that he receive a one-year sentence.
Bibhas Vaze argued that Mario never had any intent to cause harm to Charlie, and had no way of knowing what Tyler would do.
“He just wanted a drink,” he said of Mario’s intentions. “That doesn’t make him citizen of the year… But it doesn’t make him a wanton killer.”
Vaze also pointed to the Crown’s failure to disclose evidence — specifically, statements by two Carmacks residents who had heard another person who had been with the Skookums the night of Charlie’s killing brag about being the one who had stabbed Charlie.
The Crown had received that evidence in October 2018, he said, days before the preliminary hearing. However, Vaze said he didn’t learn of the statements until February 2020, after Mario had already pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The failure to disclose, Vaze said, was “extremely sloppy” work from the Crown at best and negligent at the worst, with the only remedy offered to Mario being withdrawing his plea and going to trial on first-degree murder, a charge that carries a sentence of life in prison.
Vaze was expected to continue his arguments July 24.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org