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N.W.T. man convicted of murder to get court-appointed lawyer to consider possible appeal

Kevin Mantla’s application for a court-appointed to lawyer to help with his appeal was approved by the N.W.T. Supreme Court on Friday.

Kevin Mantla’s application for a court-appointed lawyer approved by N.W.T. Supreme Court

N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood ordered that Kevin Mantla be given a court-appointed lawyer in territorial court Friday. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Kevin Mantla, convicted in the Northwest Territories of second-degree murder and attempted murder in 2018, will be appointed a lawyer to consider grounds for appealing his conviction.

N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood made the order on Friday in a written decision on Mantla's application under Section 684 of the Criminal Code to have the courts appoint him a lawyer. Smallwood's decision was translated into Tłı̨chǫ line-by-line on Friday for Mantla, who appeared in a Yellowknife courtroom by video conference.

Mantla stabbed his ex-girlfriend's lover, Elvis Lafferty, to death with a knife, and seriously injured his ex, in a night of blood-soaked violence in Yellowknife in 2015. Mantla is not denying his actions, but says he should have been convicted and sentenced for the lesser offence of manslaughter because he was so intoxicated at the time.

For his second-degree murder conviction, Mantla was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 20 years.

While serving his sentence, Mantla filed a prisoner's notice of appeal of his conviction and asked for legal aid to pursue that appeal.

Mantla said he gave evidence to his defence lawyer, Charles Davison, at the time that showed he did not intend to kill Elvis Lafferty — which was not entered as evidence — and that Gladue principles were not followed in his case.

He was denied legal aid on the opinion of another lawyer who reviewed Mantla's appeal and determined that Mantla's line of reasoning was indefensible.

According to the court record, Mantla has a Grade 7 education and suffers a "cognitive deficit" because of heavy drug and alcohol abuse. Smallwood said Mantla does not have the ability to either make an appeal, or to identify the grounds of an appeal.

In her decision, Smallwood did not contradict the earlier lawyer's appraisal that Mantla's appeal was not reasonable.

Instead, she said that the reasoning in Mantla's appeal — that Davison did not enter important evidence on Mantla's behalf and that Gladue principles in his case were ignored — showed that Mantla did not have a good grasp of the legal issues at hand.

The issues Mantla identified are often seen in inmate appeals, and are rarely successful, Smallwood said.

Mantla was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder in 2018. (Facebook)

Mantla alleges evidence ignored

On the question of his defence lawyer's competency, Smallwood said Davison declined to act on a verbal waiver of lawyer-client privilege offered by Mantla. That waiver could have allowed Davison to directly address allegations raised by Mantla that would be subject to lawyer-client privilege.

Mantla alleges that he told police, while in custody and at other times, that he never meant to kill Lafferty, and that he told his lawyer at the time about those statements. Mantla further alleges his lawyer did not enter those statements into the court record. 

Smallwood said she was not surprised Davison did not act on a verbal offer to waive privilege and instead preferred to wait for a written waiver of privilege, which Mantla did not provide.

But Davison did say, according to Smallwood, that even if Mantla had made any utterances to the effect that he didn't mean to kill Lafferty, those statements would not have been admissible in court. Smallwood said Davison's statement further suggested to her that Mantla did not have grounds for an appeal.

But given Mantla's demonstrated inability to understand the complex legal matters at hand, his lack of education, his poor literacy, his cognitive limitations, and his inability to afford a lawyer, Smallwood said Mantla does not have the capacity to identify arguable legal issues with his conviction or to proceed on them. 

So she ordered that a lawyer be appointed to act on Mantla's behalf.

"I expect this lawyer will investigate the issues raised by Mr. Mantla and obtain the waiver of privilege needed," Smallwood said.

The lawyer will review the trial record to discover any arguable issues on Mantla's behalf, and then report back to the court with his or her findings.

The lawyer is expected to be identified by Aug. 10, the date of Mantla's next hearing.

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