Sunday, February 10, 2013

Spouse killer no monster, defence says

OTTAWA — An Immigration Canada employee who knifed the mother of his toddler daughter to death committed a “monstrous act” but is not a monster, a defence lawyer told a jury Friday.
Tamrat Gebere doesn’t deny that he stabbed his ex-girlfriend Aster Kassa to death, said lawyer Stuart Konyer.
But that “sudden, violent, frenzied reaction” was provoked by the “unexpected violence” of a lying, manipulative, deceitful woman and welfare cheat who used Gebere’s desire to be a part of his child’s life against him, said Konyer.

In the defence’s opening address, Konyer said the jury would hear the words Gebere used in his final argument with Kassa as they assembled a crib together for their 17-month-old daughter, and how those words “threatened her continued existence here in Canada.” Kassa’s reaction to those words led to the “terrible” killing, which Konyer contended was the lesser offence of manslaughter, not second-degree murder.
“None of which is to say that she deserved, in any way, the horrible end to her life that was inflicted on her. Her death, her killing at the hands of Tamrat Gebere, was a criminal act,” Konyer emphasized.
The Crown contends Gebere had the intent to kill Kassa when he jabbed and slashed her 53 times in the neck, face, chest and arms in Kassa’s Riverside Drive apartment on July 17, 2010.
Prosecutors are seeking a second-degree murder conviction.
Konyer alleged that Kassa wasn’t the abused woman she purported to be, and plans to call evidence that will cause the jury to question whether they could believe anything Kassa told others about her relationship with Gebere.
Konyer alleged that Kassa’s claims of abuse at the hands of Gebere were made up, a fiction designed to secure her access to priority housing for abused women.
“Rather, she was an abuser of the systems to protect true victims,” alleged Konyer.
Kassa was angry at Gebere and moved out not because he denied her food or locked her out, but because she had worked out a welfare scam that would allow her to live rent-free with a friend while still collecting benefits as if she lived alone.
Konyer said Kassa wanted Gebere to set up a similar arrangement for her in Ottawa after she became pregnant but the “straight arrow” Gebere wouldn’t go along with it.
By the time she was killed, a suicidal Gebere had sunk into a serious depression, Konyer alleged, taking a bizarre bus trip to Kingston and inexplicably failing to show up for work.
Kassa wouldn’t take his cheques and wanted untraceable cash for support payments so she could conceal it from the welfare department, Konyer said.
Despite working two jobs to support the baby, Gebere will testify he saw “the writing on the wall” if he went to court for access, since Kassa had documented but unproven allegations of abuse against him after living in shelters for a year, Konyer alleged.
Konyer said Gebere will tell jurors how he had to flee his native Ethiopia as a 17-year-old to a refugee camp in Kenya in 1991.
Unlike Kassa, who lied to secure refugee status, Gebere worked as a teacher in the camp before coming to Canada on a scholarship in 2001, Konyer said. He had graduated from the University of Ottawa when he met Kassa in Toronto in 2008. The two had been dating for less than two months when she became pregnant.
Instead of demanding that Kassa abort the baby, as Kassa’s friend alleged, he was happy and excited, said Konyer.
Gebere wasn’t the abusive man he was made out to be during the trial, Konyer said.
“Your collective experience will also tell you that terrible acts, such as this killing, are not always the result of evil actors,” Konyer told the jury. “That sometimes otherwise, decent persons can be driven to committing acts that are, well, monstrous.”
The trial continues Monday.
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