Defence in Kwasi Benjamin murder trial argues Nellie Angutiguluk's death was suicide

Defence lawyer Paul Skolnik has begun closing arguments in Kwasi Benjamin's second-degree murder trial, telling the jury Nellie Angutiguluk died because she hanged herself, and not because Benjamin strangled her.

Criminal lawyer Paul Skolnik begins closing arguments in 2nd-degree murder trial

Nellie Angutiguluk, 29, was found dead in an apartment in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges district on May 18, 2015. (Submitted by Yvan Pouliot)

Kwasi Benjamin's defence lawyer has told the jury in his murder trial that Nellie Angutiguluk died as a result of hanging herself, and not because Benjamin strangled her.

Lawyer Paul Skolnik began his closing arguments today in Quebec Superior Court before Justice Michael Stober.

Benjamin, 32, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Angutiguluk, 29, an Inuk mother of three who'd moved to Montreal from the northern Quebec community of Puvirnituq.  She was found dead in the Côte-des-Neiges apartment she shared with Benjamin on May 18, 2015.

Prosecutor Dennis Galiatsatos presented evidence over the course of the trial which the Crown says proves Benjamin strangled Angutiguluk with some sort of cord or cable after a night of drinking.

But Skolnik told the six men and six women on the jury that Benjamin's actions the night Angutiguluk died do not point to the behaviour of someone who wanted to kill her.

The last witness to testify for the defence, Moshe Abenson, said he saw Benjamin pulling Angutiguluk from the middle of a busy street, out of traffic, as they walked home from the bar.

Testifying in his own defence, Benjamin told the court his girlfriend had been walking in the middle of the street, saying she wanted to die.
Defence lawyer Paul Skolnik said the issue at stake in the trial of accused killer Kwasi Benjamin is whether Nellie Angutiguluk's death was murder or suicide. (CBC)

Murder or suicide, asks defence

Skolnik told the jury the issue at stake is whether Angutiguluk's death was murder or suicide.

"I put it to you that it's not a murder," he said.

He asked why Benjamin would pull Angutiguluk out of traffic if he wanted to kill her.

Skolnik also spoke of what he said were several inconsistencies in the testimony from Crown witness Ruston Paroligan, a neighbour in the apartment building where the couple lived.

Paroligan testified he heard a horrible fight that night, with glass breaking and pans being thrown around. Paroligan testified he heard the fight at 1 a.m., however, Skolnik pointed out, the call to 911 about Angutiguluk walking in the middle of the street didn't come in until closer to 2 a.m.
Kwasi Alfred Benjamin, 29, was charged today with the first-degree murder of Nellie Angutiguluk on or about May 18. (Montreal police)

Skolnik said Paroligan's own parents, with whom he lives, and the neighbour who lived across the hall did not hear yelling that night.

None of the first responders found broken glass in the apartment.

"He's not credible because he can't tell a story straight," said Skolnik.

Skolnik is painting the picture that Angutiguluk died as a result of a suicide attempt with the cord from a clock radio, hanging in the bedroom closet.

DNA from both, Angutiguluk and Benjamin was found on the cable.

"In any normal household, would you expect to see an alarm clock hanging in the closet," he asked. "It was there because the deceased put it there."

Skolnik also addressed testimony by a cellmate of Benjamin, a man he referred to a "small-time career criminal."

The witness, who can only be identified by the initials XY because of a publication ban on his name, said Benjamin told him that the autopsy done on Angutiguluk would not be able to determine if she was strangled or if she choked.

But Skolnik also pointed out that Benjamin never told XY that he killed Angutiguluk.

"So if he never admitted he killed his girlfriend, why would he tell XY that an autopsy report would never show if it was strangulation or choking," asked Skolnik.  "This is something that he made up."

Skolnik also referred to XY's testimony in which he said Benjamin told him Angutiguluk liked to hang herself to play sexual games.

The lawyer said, again, this is a case of XY making up stories, as he never mentioned sexual games in the preliminary inquiry or in interviews with police investigators.

"What is true," added Skolnik "is that (Benjamin) did tell (XY) that she tried to kill herself and she tried to hang herself."

The defence is expected to wrap up its arguments today, and the Crown will begin presenting closing arguments Wednesday. Jury deliberations are likely to get underway next Monday.