'I always loved that girl,' accused killer Kwasi Benjamin testifies in his own defence

Kwasi Benjamin is taking the rare step of testifying at his second-degree murder trial, telling a Montreal jury that he did not strangle his girlfriend, Nellie Angutiguluk, in May 2015.

Benjamin, 32, is on trial for 2nd-degree murder in May 2015 death of girlfriend Nellie Angutiguluk, 29

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 took the witness box Tuesday at his second-degree murder trial in Montreal, telling a jury that he did not strangle his girlfriend, Nellie Angutiguluk.

"No sir, with all her faults, I always loved that girl," Benjamin, 32, said in a response to a question from his lawyer, Paul Skolnik.

Benjamin is taking the rare step of testifying in his own defence.

Angutiguluk, 29, was found dead in the couple's rented apartment in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges district in May 2015. The Inuk mother of three had moved to Montreal from Puvirnituq, in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec.

Benjamin told Quebec Superior Court Justice Michael Stober and the jury that he met Angutiguluk in the summer of 2013 through a friend. They moved in together a couple of months later.

Under questioning from Skolnik, he said the two had a pretty good relationship, although it had its ups and downs.
Kwasi Benjamin took the witness box to testify in his own defence at his second-degree murder trial Tuesday. (Montreal police)

A lot of the time, Benjamin, said they argued about money. He said Angutiguluk was not employed, and she used a lot of money he earned working as a customer service and sales representative at an online clothing business to buy drugs and alcohol.

"Besides that, it was a wonderful relationship," he said. "We were always together, making sure that both of us are happy."

He said Angutiguluk "was like an angel, very  nice and quiet" when she was sober, but she could drink up to 24 cans of beer in a day, and when she was drunk, she could be violent.

Once, he said, she tried to stab him.

Benjamin said her demeanour would change when the two discussed money problems.

"When we talk about money, she'd go in a form of depression," said Benjamin. "Even before we talk about money, she'd go in a form of depression."

"She'd start thinking about other stuff, her husband that died, start thinking about her kids and everything like that."

Long night of drinking

The evening before she died, Benjamin said there had been a long night of drinking, in a park, then in a bar.

When they got home, Benjamin said he said he watched television, and Angutiguluk went to the bedroom.

A short time later, he said he went to the bedroom and found her on the floor near the closet.

Believing she had passed out, he said he picked her up and put her in bed.

The next morning, she was still in the same position in bed.  He said he wiped some froth from her mouth and left for work, thinking she would sleep off the effects of the alcohol.

He returned about 10 hours later to find her in the same position in the bed, he said. He called 911 a few hours later.

Benjamin told the jury that on their way home from the bar the night before, Angutiguluk was walking in the middle of a busy street, saying she was depressed and wanted to commit suicide.

He said at one point, they were intercepted by police who escorted them home to their apartment.

Skolnik also asked Benjamin about two incidents when Angutiguluk appeared to try to kill herself in the weeks before her death.  

In one case, Benjamin said he found her kneeling in the bathroom with a belt around her neck and attached to the towel bar. In the other, she was in the bedroom closet, in a similar position, with the cord from a clock radio wrapped around her neck and the closet pole.

In both cases, Benjamin said he stopped her and told her not to do that.

Earlier in the trial, Crown witness Dr. Caroline Tanguay, a pathologist, testified that Angutiguluk died of ligature strangulation.

The jury has also seen evidence of a clock radio found hanging from its cable in the bedroom closet.