‘You are a coward and a cold-hearted criminal’
Yukon Supreme Court heard emotional statements by family members about Gordon Tubman
'COLD-BLOODEDNESSʼ – Murder victim Gordon Tubman had a 'gentlenessʼ and 'curiosity,ʼ family members told the court yesterday. The 41-year-old Whitehorse man was shot in the head by Alexander Dennis and his body burned along with his trailer in August 2010. Dennis will be sentenced next month.
Yukon Supreme Court heard emotional statements by family members about Gordon Tubman — killed with “cold-bloodedness” by a rifle shot to the head in August 2010 — weighed against heartfelt remarks by his killer that were addressed to the victim’s loved ones in a sentencing hearing Monday.
Alexander Dennis, 21, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder in the death of the 41-year-old Whitehorse man.
Tubman’s body was found among the burnt rubble of his trailer home on Aug. 15, 2010.
His sister, Corry Rusnak, stepped up to address Justice Ron Veale Monday afternoon, whispering to herself, “I can do this.”
She recounted the pain of “shovelling through ash and lifting burnt chunks of his house .... I can still smell that fire.”
Rusnak noted the blaze severed any tangible connection her family might have had to her brother’s memory through mementoes or keepsakes.
Tubman’s niece told the court about his phone call on her 16th birthday — the last time they spoke — weeks before his death: “I can wish upon shooting stars ... and Thanksgiving wish bones, but I can’t undo the reality that he is gone.”
Tubman’s brother-in-law, Gary Rusnak, recalled the diesel engine mechanic’s good nature: “his gentleness, his ability to fix things, his curiosity about religion, his curiosity of machines ... and his ability to find the good.”
Gary touched not only on the sorrow but the wrath such an apparently senseless act set off among his loved ones.
“This day is the day that you turned our world upside down,” his statement read.
“This is an evil person convicted of doing an evil thing….In my mind, you are a coward and a cold-hearted criminal.”
Dennis, from British Columbia’s Fraser Valley region, made his first appearance in a Whitehorse courtroom Monday morning after having agreed to a plea bargain that excluded an arson charge but admitted to the murder.
The incident, which involved alcohol, crack-cocaine and target practice with a rifle, culminated in Dennis shooting Tubman in the face and the subsequent burning of his body and trailer near a gravel pit on Copper Haul Road.
“There is a degree of cold-bloodedness or perhaps calousness to the events,” admitted defence lawyer Don Campball.
The incident was “not a product of a dispute between these individuals; there was simply no reason.”
An acquaintance of Dennis’s who reported him after they were drinking together in Vancouver said he divulged that “‘he killed some guy to see what it felt like.’”
Remaining silent through most of the proceedings, Dennis stood up Monday afternoon, close to tears, and addressed the public gallery, particularly Tubman’s family.
“I don’t think that there’s nothing I can say that’s ever going to make any of this right.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with myself for a long time now,” he said, putting his right hand over his heart. “I know I did a lot of bad things in my life.”
Dressed in a red T-shirt and blue jeans with closely-cropped hair, tattoos on his arms and an inked cross under his right eye, Dennis expressed what appeared to be deep-seated remorse.
“I want to own up to what I did. I just want to own up.
“And I’m sorry. And if I could go back and fix it, I would,” he said. “If I could go back and make it better, I would.
“If it was what you wanted for me to me to be in pain right now, then yeah. Yeah.”
Dennis faces life imprisonment, with parole eligibility beginning after 10 to 25 years.
The Crown suggested 12 years’ imprisonment before he could be considered for parole.
On Aug. 14, 2010, a friend drove Tubman to a Whitehorse bar, where he approached Franklin Charlie — the only eye-witness to the murder — and asked where he could get some cocaine.
“Mr. Charlie agreed to assist Mr. Tubman in this enterprise,” Crown prosecutor David McWhinnie told the court, drawing from the joint statement of facts submitted by the prosecution and defence.
Tubman drove them to several locations around town in his car, despite a driving prohibition stemming from a previous incident.
Footage from Goody’s gas bar in Porter Creek shows the duo buying cigarettes and jerky.
Eventually, they met with Dennis, then a street-level cocaine dealer who had turned 18 two months earlier.
Dennis agreed to sell them some of his product, and the three of them went back to Tubman’s trailer.
They drank beer and Charlie and Tubman smoked crack, then decided to take target practice with a rifle, perhaps not realizing that Dennis had been awake for virtually five days straight on a cocaine binge.
“At some point during the proceedings, Mr. Dennis said to Mr. Charlie: ‘I’m gonna kill this guy,’” McWhinnie told the court. Charlie didn’t think he was serious.
Soon after, however, Charlie heard a rifle chamber being loaded, then a shot fired. He looked up and saw Tubman’s body slumped over a table.
One of the two men spread gasoline and the trailer was set alight with the body inside, though neither admitted to lighting the match.
Charlie said he was still in the trailer when it was set ablaze and only managed to escape through a back window.
“He thought Dennis was trying to kill him too,” McWhinnie said.
Dennis denied the arson charge, which McWhinnie said will be stayed, meaning it could be resurrected for up to a year.
Dennis and Charlie left the scene on foot and “took off essentially cross-country,” ending up in a “swampy area,” McWhinnie continued.
At one point, Charlie pushed the murder weapon down into the mud, hiding it from view.
They ended up near the Kopper King at around 9:30 the following morning, when they caught a cab.
Dennis apologized to Charlie for getting him involved in the murder.
Two months later, Charlie was in custody for an unrelated matter. He confided to a guard at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre that he was concerned a connection might be drawn to boots he left at the crime scene.
Police recovered the rifle in October 2011.
A cast-off cigarette was also recovered from Dennis. His DNA matched that on some beer cans found at the scene.
Dennis’s finger prints were also discovered on Tubman’s truck.
Police even attempted two undercover operations to elicit a confession from Dennis.
One officer tried to make nice with Dennis on the street, but Dennis caught on, telling another person within earshot of the officer he thought he was being set up.
Dennis was sent to jail on an unrelated matter in July 2013, and an officer was inserted undercover, posing as his cellmate.
That, too, revealed nothing.
The Crime Stoppers hotline proved more successful. Dennis’s acquaintance in Vancouver reported him for his boozy murder confession by phoning up the organization.
Questioned by police and presented with heartfelt recordings from Tubman’s family, Dennis admitted in July 2013 to shooting him.
The confession was crucial to the Crown’s case: “Mr. Charlie faces some significant cognitive deficits,” meaning his “reliability suffers as a result.”
Dennis comes from Adam’s Lake, a small First Nations community in the Fraser Valley.
Campball described how Dennis’s parents offered local leadership and a “spiritual foundation” for family and residents, despite not having much money.
But Dennis “came under the tutelage” of a gang-affiliated cousin in Vancouver in his teens. He dropped out of school and began drinking in Grade 8, joining the Redd Alert gang in his mid-teens while muling drugs in B.C. and recording hip hop.
Eventually, he disaffiliated from the aboriginal-based crime group after veering between alcohol binges in Vancouver and self-detox back home.
He fled to Whitehorse and worked himself into a state of near-“psychosis” through cocaine-fuelled paranoia, Campball said.
He wanted to be prepared to kill someone and assure himself he could do it, leading in part to Tubman’s death, the court heard.
The sentencing is scheduled for March 14.