'Never been that scared before': Edmonton lawyer pleads guilty to manslaughter

An Edmonton lawyer says she was scared for her life when she stabbed her boyfriend in 2017 during an alcohol-fuelled altercation.

Crown asks for six-year prison sentence, defence argues for three in domestic abuse case

Edmonton lawyer Navdeep Virk has been disbarred by the Legal Society of Alberta. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

An Edmonton lawyer says she was afraid for her life when she stabbed her boyfriend during an alcohol-fuelled altercation two years ago. 

Laurie Jean Cunningham pleaded guilty to manslaughter Monday in Edmonton's Court of Queen's Bench for the death of Mark Huemer in November 2017.

She had originally been charged with second-degree murder.

Cunningham, 62, told the court she had been in an on-and-off relationship with Huemer for a bit more than a year. 

"The good times were really good, the bad times were really bad," she testified.

Huemer, 59, had a temper, Cunningham said, and could be verbally abusive and physically intimidating. 

"He had a very, very short fuse," she said. "He would get so angry."

Court heard that Cunningham was addicted to alcohol at the time, and took sleeping pills for her insomnia. 

Huemer also had a drinking problem, court was told. 

Cunningham had consumed alcohol and sleeping pills on the evening of Nov. 7, 2017, according to an agreed statement of facts filed in court. 

A toxicologist determined that her blood-alcohol content at the time of the crime was between 189 and 309 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal driving limit in Alberta is 50 mg per 100 ml.

Huemer's blood-alcohol content was four times the legal driving limit at the time of his death.

'I started to be really afraid'

Cunningham testified that the evening at Huemer's house started out pleasantly. 

Huemer proposed marriage to her, Cunningham said, but the celebration quickly took a dark turn. 

She told the court that Huemer pressured her to have sex but she refused, wanting to spend more quality time together first. 

He swore at her and demanded his ring back, she said, then became violent. 

"He started kicking me in the shoulder and back, over and over," Cunningham said. 

She told the court that she tried to fight back and get away but said Huemer punched her in the face. 

"I started to be really afraid, I'd never had anybody hit me before," she said, while crying. "Next time I tried to get up, he punched me again.

"I've never been that scared before."

Laurie Cunningham had bruising on her face at the time of her arrest. (Court exhibit )

Cunningham testified that in her panic, she grabbed a knife from a block in the kitchen, where the altercation was happening. 

The two struggled, and Huemer was stabbed once or twice, according to court documents. 

Huemer died of a stab wound to the abdomen, which punctured his iliac artery. 

He also had a stab wound through the left arm, but it was unclear if the injury was the result of a second stabbing motion.

Cunningham said she has no recollection of what happened after the struggle. 

911 call

Crown prosecutor Shane Parker painted a different picture of that evening, and questioned Cunningham's memory lapses.

"She was not a reliable witness," said Parker, who suggested that the mix of alcohol and pills made Cunningham aggressive toward Huemer.

Her facial injuries could have been caused by falling over while drunk, he said. 

Parker played an audio recording of the 911 call that Huemer placed before the stabbing. 

At 9:16 p.m., Huemer called 911 to request an ambulance for Cunningham, who he described as being "unconscious on the kitchen floor" due to her alcohol and sleeping pill consumption. 

Mark Huemer was stabbed to death in his home on Edmonton's west side. (Travis McEwan/CBC )

"She hit me several times," Huemer told the operator. 

Cunningham could be heard in the background at times during the six-minute call, but the sounds were unintelligible. 

Huemer later told the operator that Cunningham had awakened and grabbed a knife.

"She stabbed me!" Huemer said, a few seconds later. 

Police entered the house at 9:32 p.m. and found Huemer unconscious and unresponsive, court documents show.

They found Cunningham lapsing in and out of consciousness on the kitchen floor. 

"The last act this man took on Earth was to help a friend," Parker said. "There was simply no need for him to die that night."

Crown seeks six years in prison

Parker asked Justice Monica Bast to consider a six-year prison sentence for Cunningham. 

He argued that there were several aggravating factors in the case, including the fact that the altercation was a result of domestic abuse, and the crime happened in the victim's home. 

Cunningham was armed with a 20-centimetre blade, while Huemer was unarmed, he said. 

Defence lawyer Mona Duckett suggested a three-year prison sentence would be appropriate.

She told the court that Cunningham's moral culpability had to be understood within the context of her fear. 

Duckett also noted her client's attempts to rehabilitate her life, including attending treatment for her alcoholism. 

The judge reserved her decision until Wednesday.