Killers' and victim's families clash outside court as Calgary judge accepts manslaughter pleas

Tensions boiled over outside a Calgary courtroom as the mother and sister of a young man shot to death last year came face to face with the families of his three killers, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Monday.

Benjamin El-Ajak Nyiker, 24, Akieg Bol, 21, and Matiop Okich, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter

From left, Matiop Nyok Okich, 21, Akieg Bol, 20, and Benjamin El-Ajak Nyiker, 23, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Abiem Kuol Abiem, 23, last November. (Submitted )

Tensions boiled over outside a Calgary courtroom Monday afternoon as the mother and sister of a young man shot to death last year came face to face with the families of his three killers. 

"You could cut the tension with a knife," said Awien Abiem, whose older brother died last November.

Abiem Abiem was shot through the door of his cousin's basement apartment in the southeast community of Dover as the two tried to keep out the three men threatening them with guns. 

Originally charged with first-degree murder, Benjamin El-Ajak Nyiker, 24, Akieg Bol, 21, and Matiop Okich, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter Monday afternoon. 

Before they entered the courtroom, sheriffs had to break up a verbal fight between the victim's family and the offenders'.

Abiem's mother and sister sat on one side of the courtroom while about 20 members of Nyiker, Bol and Okich's family filled the other side of the gallery.

Abiem Abiem's sister, Awien Abiem, and their mother, Mary Malueth, feel the sentence was too light for the three men who shot him last year. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The trio of killers were drinking with two women the night of Nov. 11, 2016, when they decided to do a drug deal, or as they called it that night, a "chop," according to an agreed statement of facts read aloud at trial.

The three had been in an ongoing dispute with the victim's cousin Bol Bol. The killers drove to Abiem's home and managed to get him into their car. He then directed him to his cousin's under the direction of the men who were armed with a shotgun and a revolver.

Once Bol Bol answered the door to his basement apartment, Abiem tried to warn him.

"The victim was there with a scared look on his face and rushed in saying 'close the door they have guns,'" reads the agreed statement of facts.

As Bol Bol and Abiem tried to close the door from inside while the three tried to push their way into the apartment. One of the three men fired the shotgun twice. Abiem was fatally wounded.

Abiem Kuol Abiem, 23, was fatally shot in Dover on Nov. 11, 2016. (Adaw Wek)

The killers and the victim are all from Sudan and all have criminal records here in Canada.

Defence lawyers Alain Hepner, Allan Fay and Gavin Wolch as well as ​prosecutor Joe Mercier made a joint recommendation for a 10-year sentence that was accepted by provincial court Judge Harry Van Harten.

"It's never easy … to send young men like you to prison," said Van Harten. "Little as though it may mean to you, I wish you the best of luck in your futures."

The three have been in custody since their arrest last year and will receive 1.5 days credit for every day they've already served. 

"The remorse is genuine," Hepner said of his client, Okich.

Fay, Nyiker's lawyer, says his client "regrets his involvement" in the killing.

Victim's family feels sentence 'unfair'

Bol's family left Sudan when he was seven years old having already lost his father in the civil war. He hopes to complete his education while serving his sentence, said Wolch.

"I don't think they were remorseful," said Abiem's sister. 

After they serve their sentences, the three, who are permanent residents, will be subjected to a deportation process, though it's rare for offenders to be sent back to war-torn countries like South Sudan, according to Hepner.

Mercier indicated the plea deal was made, in part, because of difficulties with witnesses who were reluctant to testify. 

But Abiem says she and her mother feel the sentence is "unfair" and would have liked the men to be sent to prison for life.

"I'm not happy.… I don't like the sentence at all."​

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.