Last October, a fight broke out in the medium security unit of Saskatchewan Penitentiary, sending one inmate to hospital with facial injuries.
According to the Crown’s theory, it happened because of a debt over a cookie.
Phillip L. Levac was on trial Friday for his role in the thoroughly one-sided beating, which even the judge said he “dominated.” But he was acquitted of aggravated assault, after the court found he acted in self-defence.
The attack was caught on video. An inmate identified as Peter Stevenson approaches Levac, and the pair briefly face each other. With no warning, Levac headbutts Stevenson twice in the face. He then grabs his jacket, throws him to the ground and pummels him.
After Stevenson briefly gets back on his feet, Levac puts him in a headlock and wrestles him back to the floor. After about a minute of violence, Levac turns around and walks away.
Those events were not disputed. But the defence argued that there was more to the story, and called another inmate to take the stand. Edgar Arjona-Soledad was serving time for stabbing his girlfriend’s mother at least 11 times with a pair of hairdressing scissors. He testified from prison, appearing in court over a video feed.
He said that he overheard Stevenson threatening to stab Levac, just moments before the beating began.
“He was just trying to defend himself,” Arjona-Soledad said.
The Crown tried to challenge his credibility. Prosecutor Tyrel Taylor argued that the two frequently performed “favours” for each other.
Arjona-Soledad acknowledged that Levac was his friend. He also admitted that Stevenson owed him a debt.
“Can you tell us a little about that please?” Taylor asked.
“He promised me something,”Arjona-Soledad said.
“And that something, it was a dessert, was it not?” said Taylor.
“You told him to take it up with Mr. Levac?” Taylor continued, and cited a past statement where Arjona-Soledad has said as much to an RCMP officer.
The conversation continued. But Judge R. Lane interrupted, unsure if he was following correctly.
“Do I understand the witness to be saying ‘dessert?’” he asked, “as in, something you consume.”
“That’s my understanding, yes,” Taylor said.
Arjona-Soledad denied that the dessert had anything to do with the fight, but Taylor continued to maintain that Levac was trying to collect on the debt for his friend.
“You had made a food trade with Mr. Stevenson,” he suggested to Arjona-Soledad. “Mr. Stevenson had not lived up to his end of the bargain.”
The judge again interrupted, still incredulous.
“A cookie,” Lane said. “Is that what we are talking about?”
Over time, Taylor argued, the value of the debt had risen. Levac “was trying to pressure Mr. Stevenson to pay an entire meal for the transgression.”
The defence team – Saskatoon lawyers Brian Pfefferle and Mark Brayford – then called their client to testify. Levac’s mother sat in the courtroom, right next to the glass separating the prisoner pod from the audience. She said she rarely gets the chance to see her son.
Levac wore a black suit, a dark dress shirt and shackles around his ankles. He spoke about the constant state of fear prisoners live with in the penitentiary, and said that he didn’t want to wait until Stevenson pulled out a weapon.
For more on this story, see the September 16 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.