Frances Sugar acted in self-defence when she stabbed her daughter Lindey in the course of a fight on the side of a road just south of Saskatoon, according to defence lawyer Kathy Hodgson-Smith.
Hodgson-Smith addressed the jury in Frances’ murder trial during closing arguments Monday afternoon.
She’s charged with second-degree murder in Lindey’s 2014 death.
In her arguments, Hodgson-Smith pointed to testimony from Dennis Kissling, who was in the vehicle with Lindey and Frances as it sped out of Saskatoon. Kissling testified that Lindey and Frances began arguing about how to split up money they’d made from selling Ritalin pills. From there, Kissling told court Lindey accused Frances of driving her out of town when she was a child, beating her and then forcing her to walk home alone. According to Kissling, Lindey threatened to do the same to Frances.
Kissling testified Lindey repeatedly refused to let Frances out of the car as she drove out of the city, and that Lindey hauled Frances out of the back seat and punched her once they’d stopped.
Hodgson-Smith also noted Frances was intoxicated at the time of the incident. Impairment isn’t a defence by itself. But the Crown has to prove an accused had the intent to kill or cause serious bodily harm without regard for the fact it could very likely result in death in order to secure a murder conviction. Pointing to testimony from officers who dealt with Frances after her arrest, Hodgson-Smith said her level of intoxication was so high she couldn’t have formed intent.
Crown prosecutor Melodi Kujawa said there is no question Lindey was the initial aggressor in the fight and that she threatened her mother. However, Kujawa said there is nothing in the evidence to suggest Lindey was threatening Frances’ life.
Kujawa argued the threat to leave Frances to walk home alone also showed Lindey didn’t intend to leave Frances permanently crippled and as such killing her didn’t amount to a reasonable use of force.
Kujawa pointed to Kissling’s testimony that he heard Frances say something to the effect of: ‘you fight with the big boys, you go down like the big boys’ after the stabbing as evidence she wasn’t acting out of fear for her life.
While Frances told RCMP the knife she used came from the centre console of Lindey’s car, Kujawa said Kissling was in the car and never saw either Frances or Lindey open the console at any point. She suggested it was just as plausible for the jury to believe Frances had the knife on her the whole time.
Kujawa then pointed to the forensic evidence — the knife used to kill Lindey was a small, folding pocketknife with a blade maybe eight to 10 centimetres long, whereas the three stab wounds to Lindey’s body were quite deep. Kujawa suggested this indicated a great deal of force and anger behind the blade.
Kujawa stressed Lindey suffered a stab wound to the back, along with the wound to the throat which killed her. Kujawa said this should cause the jury to doubt Frances was acting in self-defence.
On the issue of intoxication, Kujawa acknowledged an empty bottle of vodka was found near where Frances was arrested. Kujawa suggested it was likely Frances drank the liquor after the stabbing, not before. She pointed to testimony from police who said Frances seemed slightly buzzed, with no difficulty following commands when she was arrested. However, they testified she seemed to become more and more impaired in the hours following her arrest. Kujawa suggested this was consistent with someone who chugged a mickey of vodka shortly before police arrived, as opposed to someone who’d been drinking heavily for some time that day.
Kujawa noted Frances managed to walk some 1.5 kilometres in the roughly 10 to 15 minutes between the stabbing and the arrival of police. She pointed out the knife was found thrown away into some tall grass with the blade folded closed. Kujawa suggested these facts weren’t consistent with someone so intoxicated they could barely think.
Finally, Kujawa noted the bottle was found near where Frances was arrested and suggested it was unlikely she would have picked up an empty bottle after the stabbing and walked that distance with it before throwing it away. Rather, Kujawa said this was more consistent with the theory that Frances drank the vodka in a hurry after stabbing Lindey.
The eight women and four men on the jury will get their final instructions from a judge on Tuesday morning. From there, they will begin deliberations on a verdict.