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Michael Nehass

‘I’m not guilty, but I’m going to plead guilty’

Michael Nehass has been in jail, awaiting trial, for two years and 11 months.

By Rhiannon Russell on November 28, 2014

Michael Nehass has been in jail, awaiting trial, for two years and 11 months.

On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to five charges in territorial court, even though he disputes the Crown’s version of events.

At recent court appearances, Nehass has said he is so desperate to get out of jail, he’s willing to plead guilty to all of his charges in hopes of being released with time served.

“I want to get this done,” he said at a hearing two weeks ago. “I’m not guilty, but I’m going to plead guilty. I want out of here.”

But even with Thursday’s guilty pleas, he will likely spend a few more months in jail as he and the Crown work out an agreed statement of facts for the five charges.

Typically, when an accused intends to plead guilty, he or she will work with the Crown to come up with an agreed statement of facts – the circumstances of an offence that both parties agree upon – before entering a guilty plea in court.

The 30-year-old accused appeared in court yesterday with his lawyer, Bibhas Vaze, before Judge Donald Luther.

Alarmingly thin, Nehass sat handcuffed and shackled in the prisoner’s box, wearing prison reds, with two sheriffs and two RCMP officers in the courtroom.

At Nehass’ request, the judge allowed him to sit at the table with his lawyer.

Crown prosecutor Eric Marcoux said he intended to seek a long-term offender or dangerous offender designation if Nehass pleaded guilty to all his charges, but this requires a psychiatric assessment that could take up to 60 days.

Until then, Marcoux said, he’d ask the judge to keep him in custody.

But Nehass objected to a longer wait in jail.

“In that case, I’ll just take it on the chin. I’d like to plead guilty on all my charges,” he said.

He’d accept long-term offender status without an assessment in order to hurry up the process, he added.

But when Marcoux read through a drafted statement of facts, not yet agreed upon by Nehass, he became agitated, calling it “fictitious.”

Yet he decided to plead guilty anyways.

“I’m going to plead guilty to this charge,” he said. “I don’t agree with these facts, but I guess I have to plead guilty.”

Vaze said he was uncomfortable with pleas being accepted by the judge in these circumstances.

Given Nehass’ desperation to get out of jail, he’s willing to plead guilty to charges he doesn’t believe he’s guilty of.

What’s the alternative? Luther wondered.

“What we’re left with is Mr. Nehass languishing in cells indefinitely,” the judge said.

“I would really like to move this on. The time has come. This has gone on too long. I’m not blaming anyone, but the time has come to grab the bull by the horns.”

Nehass could plead guilty to the “bare bones” of the offences – that he committed mischief or uttered threats, for instance – and a Gardiner hearing could be scheduled for the Crown and Nehass to present their own evidence on the charges, Luther said.

These hearings are held when the facts of an offence are in dispute.

Ultimately, Nehass pleaded guilty Thursday to a breach and mischief in June 2013.

He also pleaded guilty to assaulting a correctional officer, uttering threats, and committing mischief in July and August of that year.

The Star isn’t publishing details of the offences heard in court because they are not yet agreed upon by both parties.

Nehass had said he wanted to plead guilty to all of his territorial-court charges – laid during his incarceration at WCC.

However, when Marcoux described the details of an alleged incident this year that resulted in Nehass being charged with uttering threats, he protested, and said he would enter a not-guilty plea.

Things did not happen as the Crown says they happened, he said.

“This is a gong show.”

Nehass also faces two charges in connection with an alleged altercation with guards earlier this year, after he was brought before a judge naked via videofeed from the jail.

Vaze advised Nehass not to enter pleas yet for those charges.

“I would never advise a client to plead guilty on a count where there’s possible abuse of process,” he said.

Nehass’ treatment at WCC, including the lengthy amount of time he’s spent in segregation, will be entered as evidence in court at future hearings, Vaze said. He has requested reports from the jail on the subject.

Nehass, a member of B.C.’s Tahltan First Nation, has said several times in court that he has been inhumanely treated at the jail.

His father filed a complaint with the Yukon Human Rights Commission earlier this year, alleging discrimination and overuse of solitary confinement.

Nehass has said he’s spent two years in the jail’s segregation unit. The Department of Justice denies that.

“I think it’s agreed by everybody that over the course of a three-year period, Mr. Nehass has spent a substantial period of time in a form of separate confinement,” Vaze said in an interview this morning.

The charges that landed Nehass in jail in the first place, back in December 2011, pertain to an alleged incident in Watson Lake, and are before the Yukon Supreme Court.

They have not yet been proven in court.

Nehass said Thursday he intends to take those matters to trial.

He is scheduled to appear in court next Friday to set a date for a Gardiner hearing.

Comments (7)

Up 2 Down 18

mike madder on Dec 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm

@Jaymanic: I'm sorry to inform you that on all matters you are wrong regarding my association with mister Nehass and his plea in court. If you pay attention to what history has taught us thousands of people have pled guilty to something they never did to get out jail after extended periods of time such as 3 years in segregation. And hundreds have been convicted of crimes they never did as well but none of these were what I was commenting on. I was strictly commenting on a human rights fact that no Canadian should be subject to the abuse and mental anguish that Mr. Nehass has been put through. It is shameful and insulting that you would even defend such treatment. Agreed that Mr. Nehass has a history of criminal behavior as do many other Yukoners, but we have a process and rules and all of those have been set aside on this matter. What I do support is fairness and the right to a fair trial and treatment while being detained and until I see that in this case I will speak my mind on it.
As for murderers picking their own lawyer I believe the supreme court of Canada ordered a new trial which must mean that there was questions about the evidence or the way it was presented so when it comes to giving him or her a choice then so be it. Remember 25 years is the sentence for murder so they should pick, and if still found guilty they have no other legal recourse or person to blame when its over. But we both agree on rapist and pedophiles because it is this writers firm belief that there is NO cure for them and that they always pose a threat to the public so should remain in prison till their heart stops beating.

Up 38 Down 3

Jaymanic on Dec 1, 2014 at 6:39 pm

@mike madder. First of all you must be one of his friends or Michael himself. But he is definitely not an innocent person. This is only what he's been caught doing that finally caught up to him now he's in jail. Yes, the justice system in the Yukon is a joke, where a murderer can have choice in who defends them on public money and be allowed to be in public, where child pedophiles and rapists get slapped on the wrists and drug dealers do as they please and nothing happens because of some technicality. But that's the way it works unfortunately. Mr Neehas knows he's guilty and reaching for anything to get out, who else says their pleading guilty but they know there not, but a liar. He should have been sent to the pen but he stayed here. To bad because he might have learned something down there, like own up to your decisions and don't blame everyone else for them.

Up 4 Down 34

Mona limacher on Dec 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I totally agree with mike madder, what the hell is wrong with everyone.? You treat someone like an animal for many years, and I just don't mean the last three in Michaels case, they eventually will act like an animal .. I really hope his dad wins the case at the human rights tribunal as something needs to be done about the correctional system in the Yukon. Even Charles Manson was allowed to get married and we all know his past..just shameful.

Up 17 Down 57

mike madder on Dec 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

What the hell is wrong with everyone. This guy has spent 3 years in jail in segregation minus 30 days on a regular unit which means he's been held by himself in a cell with minimum contact with anyone else, dragged naked into court hearings, taunted by staff and inmates, bothered at all hours of the night and day and has yet to be found guilty of anything. The photo they show of him makes him look like a nut job yet does not resemble his looks today, a frail beaten half crazed starving man who has been held accountable for everyone's wrong doings. It seems to me that Michael Nehass is a science experiment that Yukon Justice and the staff at WCC have conducted on how much abuse a guy can go through before he snaps completely. It's funny how we create monsters then blame everyone else for it. Mr. Nehass definitely has some problems that need to be addressed but the more serious matter is the one our Justice system has here in the Yukon where the courts can hold someone for such a long period of time without any resolution to the matters except more remands and delays on behalf of the crown. For everyone's information, criminal arrests are public information free of charge. Find out who and what he is charged with before commenting on something you know nothing about

Up 66 Down 6

Atom on Nov 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Talk about the tail wagging the dog.....this guy is a s**t show....somebody better deal with him because he will be back in jail and likely after he irreparably affects some innocent, law abiding person. He's not a victim.....he needs babysitting.....for the public good.

Up 60 Down 8

June Jackson on Nov 29, 2014 at 11:54 pm

It is simply not true that all criminals are mentally ill. Mental illness and "I had a bad childhood', oh, and I don't want to forget "I am the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th generation residential school survivor" are simply to evade any retribution or having to take any responsibility for their crimes.

That being said, Mr. Nehass IS mentally ill and should be locked up somewhere else. Perhaps no institutions will take him without drugging him to the eyeballs to keep himself and other inmates safe... either that or he's just in isolation again with 4 different walls to look at. Its a catch 22 in this case I think, damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I feel sorry for the person having to make any decisions about this young man, and I am equally glad he is not out on the streets.

Up 42 Down 24

s on Nov 29, 2014 at 10:58 am

Another example of the failures of Canada's Mental Health Act. Three years in jail with no convictions, and with new charges piling up as the incarcerated person does not live up to standards of behaviour. Let's all pretend this is a criminal matter and that it's up to the mentally ill person to decide they are sick and need treatment. Nehass is right, this is a gong show.

Seems to me that the psychiatric assessment should have happened long ago and he should have been removed from the criminal system and should probably have gone into the institutionalized mental health system. Although this article does not go into details of the charges, to be considered for Dangerous Offender status means this guy is extremely dangerous to the public.

Ever since the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and ever since our governments started saving hundreds of millions by throwing the mentally ill out on the street instead of keeping them in institutions, the mentally ill have been managed through police as their front line workers, and judges and lawyers dictating how long they will spend in jail instead of being appropriately and effectively removed from causing harm to themselves and others. The public and the sick person pay a huge price.

A revamp of our Mental Health Act is long overdue.

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