It’s not a question of whether Wilfred Charlie, known to everyone as “Dickie,” was stabbed multiple times at his Carmacks home in the summer of 2017.
It’s a question of who’s responsible for the crime — and in her opening statement to a Whitehorse jury on Jan. 9, Crown attorney Lauren Whyte said the Crown intends to prove it was Tyler Aaron Skookum.
Skookum is on trial for first-degree murder in relation to Charlie’s death.
He’s pleaded not guilty.
Charlie, 57, was last seen alive on June 19, 2017. His body was discovered in the Yukon River near Fort Selkirk on July 5, 2017.
Skookum’s cousin and former co-accused, Mario Rueben Skookum, pleaded guilty in December to the lesser charge of manslaughter for his role in Charlie’s death.
Whyte, in her opening, laid out the Crown’s theory of what happened: Mario and Tyler, she alleged, entered Charlie’s house in the early morning hours of June 19, 2017 after a night of drinking in search of more alcohol.
When Charlie didn’t give them any, she continued, Mario held Charlie down while Tyler allegedly began stabbing him. The cousins then moved Charlie to the nearby Yukon River.
The jury, Whyte said, can expect to hear from a forensic pathologist who will say that it’s unclear whether Charlie was dead when he was placed in the water. They can also expect to hear from police investigators, residents of Carmacks, and Mario.
Mario may appear reluctant to speak about what happened, Whyte said, but he’s the only eyewitness in the case.
She reminded the jury that the trial isn’t a television show; there are limits to science and evidence, and some pieces of the picture may be missing. For example, she said, the knife used to stab Charlie was never recovered, but if jurors apply common sense and life experience when examining evidence, they’ll be convinced that Tyler committed first-degree murder.
Whyte’s co-counsel, Crown attorney Ludovic Gouaillier, walked the jury through facts that aren’t in contention:
Charlie’s brother called police around 2:24 p.m. on June 19, 2017, to request a wellness check after hearing there was blood in Charlie’s house and that he couldn’t be found.
Two officers responded and found blood both outside and inside the residence.
A search was launched, but it was ultimately a group of “visitors” who spotted Charlie’s body in the river about two weeks later.
One of the two officers, Const. Scott Guthrie, took the witness stand in the afternoon.
Responding to questions from Whyte, Guthrie confirm that, at the time, he had been stationed in Carmacks for about three years and had spoken to Charlie a “fair number of times.”
He described Charlie as a First Nations male with a shaggy hair cut reminiscent of the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, and a talented artist with an unmistakable, unique voice he couldn’t quite describe.
“When you heard his voice, you just knew it was Dickie,” he said.
Charlie, Guthrie testified, was friendly when sober, but would also “drink a lot,” and “to the point you couldn’t communicate with him.”
During cross-examination by defence lawyer Jennifer Budgell, Guthrie confirmed that some of his interactions with Charlie included arresting him while he was intoxicated, but that he was “good” to deal with and never physically combative.
Guthrie told the court he was off-duty the day of the wellness check, but was called in to assist another officer. When they arrived at Charlie’s house at 34 Ninro, Guthrie said he noticed what appeared to be spots of blood on the stairs of the deck, and a pool on the deck itself.
In cross-examination, Guthrie agreed that he didn’t conduct any tests to see if the substance was actually blood, nor could he say who had been in the house last.
Guthrie and his partner knocked on the doors and windows but received no response, so they entered through an unlocked door. Inside, he said he saw what he believed to be pools of blood on the floor, some of them dried.
Other than the blood, he said, the rest of the house looked tidy and normal.
Guthrie described the amount of blood as “significant” but not enough to cause “great alarm,” explaining that he’d seen blood at the house before when Charlie had hurt himself.
Still, Guthrie testified, he wanted to find Charlie to make sure he was okay and told his partner to guard the scene. Guthrie then spent “several hours” driving around looking for Charlie, and also called the Carmacks health centre and Whitehorse General Hospital to no avail.
The officer estimated he spoke to between 15 and 20 Carmacks residents while he was searching, with one of them handing him a pair of dress shoes.
The significance of the shoes was not explained.
Guthrie’s partner, meanwhile, had alerted a supervisor in Whitehorse of the situation; the Yukon RCMP’s dog handler, Cpl. Cam Long, was sent to Carmacks, and Guthrie said he brought him to Charlie’s house that evening.
Long found a knife on a picnic table between Charlie’s house and someone else’s, Guthrie said, and he confiscated it in case it was evidence.
Guthrie confirmed he was also involved in the search for Charlie in the following days, including taking four or five helicopter flights scanning the Yukon River as well as doing boat patrols. He said he kept up the boat patrols until he transferred out of Carmacks during the first week of July.
Guthrie said he couldn’t remember if he was still in Carmacks when Charlie’s body was found — only that he’d received a call about it, and that he didn’t attend the scene.
He agreed, in cross-examination, that news travels fast in a community like Carmacks.
The trial resumes on Monday, with civilian witnesses from Carmacks expected to testify.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org