Nunavut triple slaying was self-defence: lawyer

Christopher Bishop, the Nunavut man accused of killing three men in a 2007 shooting, was protecting his own life during a home invasion, his lawyer has told a jury in Iqaluit.

Christopher Bishop, the Nunavut man accused of killing three men in a 2007 shooting, was protecting his own life during a home invasion, his lawyer has told a jury in Iqaluit.

Defence lawyer Scott Cowan presented his arguments Monday in the trial of Bishop, 24, who is charged with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the Jan. 6, 2007, shooting in the remote western Nunavut hamlet of Cambridge Bay. Bishop has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Keith Atatahak, 28, and Kevin Komaksiut, 22, both of Cambridge Bay, and 29-year-old Dean Costa of Edmonton were killed in the shooting. Injured were Logan Pigalak and Antoinette Bernhardt, Atakahak's common-law partner.

Since the trial began May 26 in Iqaluit, the Nunavut Court of Justice jury has heard that a group of people broke into Bishop's housing unit early on the morning of Jan. 6.

When the group kicked in the door to Bishop's bedroom, he opened fire on them with a semi-automatic assault rifle, court was told.

Cowan's final arguments Monday marked the first time the Nunavut Court of Justice jury has heard Bishop's version of what happened. After the Crown presented its evidence last week, Cowan declined to call upon any evidence or witnesses.

'These men were out for blood'

In court on Monday afternoon, Cowan asked jurors to imagine being asleep at home, only to be woken up by what he called "a gang of thugs" trying to kick down the front door.

"These men were out for blood," Cowan told the court, adding that Bishop had no choice but to open fire.

"It's about the most basic human instinct — the will to live," Cowan said.

Cowan then spoke of testimony from some Crown eyewitnesses, arguing that trauma from the shooting — and the fact that many of the witnesses were related to the dead and injured — "coloured their minds."

As an example, Cowan said several eyewitnesses testified that the men were unarmed when they entered Bishop's apartment, but forensic experts said they found a broken golf club clutched in Komaksiut's hands.

Cowan also argued against the Crown's contention that Bishop used the home invasion as a chance to settle the score in a simmering feud with some of the victims.

"What murderer calls the police twice when they're thinking about committing murder?" Cowan asked the court.

During the trial, court heard audio recordings of two calls Bishop made to the RCMP emergency line minutes before the shooting took place.

Did not have to shoot: Crown

Earlier on Monday, Crown prosecutor Paul Bychok admitted that a crime — a home invasion — was perpetrated against Bishop in the early morning hours of Jan. 6.

At the same time, Bychok argued that Bishop could have pleaded with the RCMP to come sooner, or he could have barricaded his bedroom door as the group approached him.

Bychok argued that all Bishop needed to do was to buy some time, since police were on their way.

But no reasonable person needed to keep a semi-automatic assault rifle, with a 30-bullet banana clip, at the ready in Nunavut communities, Bychok argued.

The prosecutor said the jury may well determine that Bishop acted in self-defence when he shot Costa and Atatahak from his bedroom, when the group kicked in his bedroom door.

But Bychok said the defining moment of the case was the shooting of Komaksiut, who was found dead in the snow more than 40 metres from Bishop's housing unit.

An autopsy report showed that Komaksiut was shot five times: one bullet grazed his arm and four bullets hit him in the back.

"How on earth is a grievously wounded man who's crawling more than 40 metres from your house a threat?" Bychok asked jurors.

Cowan said jurors don't have to agree that Bishop was right in shooting Komaksiut, but he argued that it was reasonable at the time.

Cowan argued that Bishop saw Komaksiut jump from the shadows and run away, holding a broken golf club. When Bishop shot him, he did so in response to a violent attack, Cowan argued.