A Northwest Territories man serving a life sentence for murdering a stranger with an ornamental sword has pleaded guilty to a vicious assault on a fellow inmate at Edmonton’s maximum security prison.
Denecho King appeared in Edmonton Court of King’s Bench Tuesday wearing handcuffs and leg shackles. He was scheduled to start a trial alongside a co-accused, Damien Bryson, for a 2020 knife attack on an inmate at Edmonton Institution.
King instead opted to plead guilty to a charge of aggravated assault. Flanked by sheriffs, he politely answered questions from Justice Avril Inglis confirming he understood the consequences of pleading guilty.
The plea came moments after the Crown withdrew charges against Bryson. Bryson’s defence lawyer, Cody Ackland, told court his client recently died under circumstances that remain unclear. Postmedia reached out to Correctional Service Canada for more details but did not hear back. It is unknown whether Bryson was in custody.
According to an agreed statement of facts, King and Bryson entered an enclosed exercise yard at Edmonton Institution at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2020. The victim, Gopal Figueredo, entered a few minutes later with a fourth man. After a few minutes, King and Bryson pounced on Figueredo. King pulled an improvised knife from his waistband, grabbed Figueredo by the back of the collar and stabbed him “using rapid, upper-cut-type motions with the blade,” prosecutor Alexander Palamarek said.
Bryson also grabbed Figueredo and delivered a number of kicks and punches.
Prison staff, who were busy with another inmate, responded by dousing all four inmates with pepper spray. King continued to stab Figueredo after the victim fell to the ground. He eventually tossed the knife through the chain link fence and laid face down while officers arrested him. The attack lasted about 25 seconds and was captured entirely on CCTV.
Figueredo lost “visibly large amounts of blood” and was rushed to Royal Alexandra Hospital. Medical staff determined he had been struck with the two-inch knife 43 times, leaving him with 30 stab wounds. He suffered a partially collapsed lung, a perforated abdomen and injuries to his liver, spleen and ribs.
Both Figueredo and the fourth man in the exercise yard refused to cooperate with investigators.
Both victim and accused convicted of homicides
At the time of the stabbing, King was serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 12 years after being found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of John Wifladt.
King’s DNA was found on a pair of swords used to attack Wifladt and his friend Colin Digness in Digness’s Yellowknife apartment on Dec. 14, 2014. Court heard all three men were strangers and that King — who was 22 and heavily intoxicated — grabbed the unsharpened, Japanese-style swords from a display stand in Digness’s suite and attacked both men. Digness survived but could not remember the attack.
King called no evidence in his defence, relying instead on the Crown to prove he was the killer. Northwest Territories Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar found him guilty of both second-degree murder and aggravated assault in July 2018.
Figueredo, meanwhile, was one of six men convicted in a double-killing in East Vancouver, B.C. Xuan Van Vy Ba-Cao and Samantha Le were each shot twice in the head at the home, which was the site of an illegal drug operation.
A judge convicted all six accused of manslaughter, rather than murder, because the gun was never found and the Crown was unable to establish the identity of the shooter.
‘Extremely concerning’: Correctional investigator slams Edmonton’s maximum-security prison, again
Second Edmonton prison fight in two weeks broken up with live rounds
Edmonton Institution is considered one of the toughest prisons in Canada. A 2022 report from Canada’s correctional investigator called it a “workplace in crisis,” with nation-leading rates of use of force, inmate-on-inmate assaults and incidents of self-harm among prisoners.
The report said conditions worsened during the pandemic, with the prison resorting for a time to double-bunking — a rare move in maximum security facilities. In January 2022, conditions inside were so volatile correctional officers fired live rounds inside the prison to break up fights.
King is scheduled to be sentenced next spring. His earliest chance of parole on the murder conviction is in 2027.