A Winnipeg man has been acquitted of a fatal rooming house stabbing, after a judge accepted his claim he was acting in self-defence.
Philip Bennett, 48, stood trial for second-degree murder in the July 2019 killing of 27-year-old Christopher Helstrom.
Helstrom died from a single stab wound to the chest during a fight in the suite of a mutual friend.
Helstrom’s mother broke down in loud sobs after Queen’s Bench Justice Ken Champagne found Bennett not guilty.
"I find that the accused was not the aggressor," Champagne said. "It’s clear that the accused used the weapon to ward off" an attack by Helstrom.
Court heard evidence at trial a friend of Helstrom’s was letting him stay at her Flora Avenue rooming house suite, after she had found accommodations elsewhere.
The day of the killing, Bennett — also a friend of the woman and with whom he frequently used meth — showed up at the suite after he had been kicked out of a local ministry where he had been required to live as a condition of his bail.
Bennett testified at trial both he and Helstrom repeatedly texted the woman, with Helstrom asking her permission to kick Bennett out.
"Mr. Bennett tried to explain to Christopher that he was just waiting for (the friend), as they had plans to meet," Champagne said, reviewing Bennett’s testimony Wednesday. "Christopher was telling him to leave, waving his phone around and trying to show a text that indicated (the friend) did not want him to stay there."
Bennett testified Helstrom "snapped" and started punching him several times in the head. Bennett said he grabbed a knife from the top of the kitchen stove, at which point, Helstrom lunged at him and the two fell to the floor.
Bennett said he was holding the knife between their chests, Helstrom on top of him as he continued to attack Bennett.
"Mr. Bennett describes feeling but not seeing the knife penetrate Chris’s chest as Chris was moving back to punch him," Champagne said.
Bennett testified Helstrom said, "Ouch," got to his feet, opened the door and ran down the hall before collapsing.
Bennett told two women in the rooming house to call an ambulance for Helstrom and a cab for him, before grabbing his things and running out of the building. Police arrested Bennett a day later.
An autopsy found Helstrom had a blood-alcohol level of at least .177. He also had what was described as a "moderate level of meth for a regular user" in his system.
"The evidence suggests Christopher Helstrom was not a regular user, so this may be a high level for someone like him," Champagne said.
A knife found had both Helstrom’s and Bennett’s blood on it. Injuries to Bennett’s face and hand and the evidence of a neighbour who testified she heard sounds of a fight and what sounded like men rolling on the floor supported Bennett’s version of events, Champagne said.
"The entire incident happened very quickly," the judge said. "I accept the reason the accused grabbed the knife was to defend himself."
Helstrom had left his home in The Pas just weeks prior to his death, hoping to "make something of his life," family members said at the time.
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