When Joel Joseph Babin awoke to the sound of his girlfriend and two men stumbling into his Moberly Lake home on the morning of Nov. 13, he walked into the kitchen and picked up a knife.
"I grabbed it and said 'you guys better not try anything funny or I'll cut your nuts off,'" he recalled in a Dawson Creek courtroom Thursday.
Whether those words were an idle threat from a groggy man or the prelude to an attempted murder was debated in Dawson Creek provincial court this week.
Babin, 47, is accused of stabbing Mieczyslaw (Matt) Smusz in the neck in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2014. Smusz recovered from the life-threatening wound and testified in court Thursday. Arguments wrapped up in the trial Friday, and a judge is expected to deliver a verdict in the coming months. Babin has not been convicted of the crime.
On Nov. 13, police launched a search for Babin, who they said was armed and dangerous. When police pulled him over outside Dawson Creek, officers found a knife one witness said was used to stab Smusz in a bag of clothes in his truck.
The defense and the Crown painted two different pictures of what happened the night Smusz was stabbed.
Babin spent Nov. 12 building a shop near Chetwynd. Originally from the Gaspé Region of Quebec, he had spent decades working in Western Canada. In recent years, he moved between Edmonton, Chetwynd and Williams Lake, working as a miller, a welder, a miner and in a cement factory.
In 2014, he was living at a house in Moberly Lake with Trina Brown, an on again, off again girlfriend who he met while working at the Willow Creek Mine. A judge had earlier ordered Babin to stay away from Brown after he was charged with assaulting her.
On the night of Nov. 12, Babin returned to the house, which is owned by the West Moberly First Nation. He and Brown had earlier lived in a trailer on the reserve while Babin renovated the rundown building.
Brown, her brother and another person had been drinking when Babin returned from work. Babin told the court he had several drinks before Brown left after an argument over her gambling.
Babin went to bed, but woke up around 2 a.m. to the sound of Brown, Smusz and another man entering the house. He said he knew Smusz as a former boyfriend of Brown's, as well as a garbage collector for the First Nation.
"You were not too happy to have been awoken by the noise," defense lawyer Georges Rivard said while examining Babin.
"No," Babin said, saying he spent the next few minutes pacing between the kitchen and the bedroom, packing his things to leave for good. At some point, Babin told the men to go home. The other man did, but Smusz refused, the court heard.
Babin said he finally told Smusz to leave or he would punch him, saying he was worried the man might assault Brown. Smusz and Babin disagreed whether Brown had passed out from drinking before the altercation. Smusz said she had not.
From the witness stand, Babin said he punched Smusz as he sat on the couch. The man punched back as he stood up, and the two tumbled backwards. The accused said he noticed earlier that Smusz had tucked a kitchen knife beside him on the couch, which he said somehow got "in between" the two men.
Babin told the court he saw blood as he picked himself up off the floor, but assumed it was from a blow to his nose. He did not believe Smusz had been stabbed, he said. The Crown disputed this, saying crime scene photos showed pools of blood and spatters on the walls. Babin said he left the house as Brown helped Smusz to the kitchen and called an ambulance. He drove towards Fort St. John.
Rivard said Smusz likely wounded himself in a "defensive accident" and played the part of the victim in a courtroom reenactment, using a ruler as the knife. The blade entered the right side of Smusz's neck and partially hit his throat. He appeared fully recovered at trial, but wore a turtleneck.
Crown prosecutor Kevin Blocka said Babin acted as an "enraged, jealous boyfriend" who "jumped" on Smusz with a knife in a "fit of rage and jealousy." Much of the Crown's case relied on testimony from Brown.
The defense noted there was little forensic evidence in the case, leading to reasonable doubt over which knife was used in the stabbing.
Regardless of how Smusz was stabbed, Rivard said the Crown had to prove that Babin intended to kill the man. If the judge had doubts, a lesser sentence like aggravated assault would better fit the offence, he said.
An attempted murder conviction carries a sentence ranging from no prison time to four years to life.