The man on trial for the murder of 27-year-old Charles St. Jean said that he stabbed the victim in self-defence, a Superior Court jury heard in Greater Sudbury on Wednesday.
Tyler Sels, 24, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, testified that he started swinging a knife frantically “in slashing and stabbing motions” when he was confronted by what he described as an “angry mob” trying to attack him.
The stabbing occurred on the night of Sept. 15, 2018, on the shared deck of a Kingsway duplex where a celebration of life event was being held for a Boston Pizza employee who had died earlier in the week.
Sels testified that he got in the middle of an altercation between the people attending the celebration of life event and neighbour Theresa Grasley, which resulted in the death of St. Jean and the wounding of two other people.
Sels has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a knife in wounding Stephanie Martin in a shoulder, and assault with a weapon (knife) in wounding Marc-André Leduc in a forearm.
‘Just a normal day’
The court heard that Sels, who was 21 years old at the time, was living at his parent’s house in Burlington when Grasley’s son invited him to Sudbury for a visit.
Sels testified he arrived in the city in mid-August, and he was sleeping at Grasley’s duplex during his stay.
While he was in Sudbury, Sels said he spent most of his time playing video games, hanging out with Grasley’s son, and touring the city.
He described the day of the incident as “just a normal day.”
On the evening of Sept. 15, Sels accompanied Grasley to the celebration of life event next door. He testified he didn’t know at the time that it was a celebration of life.
“I thought it was just a party,” he said.
Sels said that Grasley’s son asked him to “babysit” Theresa Grasley because she was “drinking heavily” and she took speed pills, which are “a form of meth.”
The accused testified that Grasley’s pupils were dilated, she was slurring her words, and she was “all over the place.” It’s estimated that she consumed around six “strong” drinks.
The accused said he consumed one or two drinks over the course of four hours and did not consume drugs that evening.
When they arrived at the celebration of life, Sels said there were about five or six people present. Sels told the jury that soon after their arrival, Grasley started “talking stupid” and making inappropriate remarks to the other guests.
After spending an unspecified amount of time at the celebration of life, Sels left Grasley alone and returned to her home next door to “grab a smoke” and speak to her son.
During their conversation, Grasley returned to her home in a distraught state. Sels said that she was “clearly upset” and “hysterical.”
“She told me she was physically thrown out of the party, and called a ‘whore’. I was concerned for her,” Sels said during his testimony.
Later that evening, Grasley was on the shared deck of the duplex when an argument broke out between her and the guests next door. The guests were allegedly trying to use the shared staircase at the front of the duplex, but Grasley did not want to let them pass.
Sels said he stayed to witness the argument, but eventually went back inside to smoke a cigarette. That’s when he heard “a commotion” outside and Grasley called his name three times.
The accused said he returned to the “threshold” of the door where he saw two girls attack Grasley and St. Jean “grab hold of her.”
“I reached out with my right hand and pushed them back and pulled (Grasley) behind me as hard as I could,” said Sels.
“She fell on the ground behind me. The group closed in on me and they were all yelling at once. They seemed angry, agitated and clearly upset.”
Defence attorney Michael Puskas asked Sels to describe the scene, and the accused said Stephanie Martin, St. Jean, and Marc-Andre Leduc were in the front of the group and about four people were “closing in” behind them.
Sels testified that he panicked, looked around, and grabbed a knife that was on a table nearby.
“I held the knife in front of me, and I said, ‘back the f*** up.’ It all happened so fast,” testified Sels.
The accused said he turned his head back towards Grasley, who was still on the floor, when he was punched in different parts of his body, including his head, stomach, and shoulder, multiple times.
“I was afraid for myself and (Grasley). She has a condition that causes her bones to be very brittle,” said Sels, who added that he didn’t know the extent of her illness, but he knew she was frail and often used a wheelchair.
“Because she was behind me, I couldn’t back up and I felt like I needed the knife to protect me from so many people.”
Sels began “slashing and stabbing” frantically with the knife. At some point, he testified, St. Jean grabbed him by the shoulders, and he stabbed him in the abdomen.
“He went limp and lost strength. I turned around and closed the door. I just started pacing and walking up and down the hallway,” said Sels.
“I was in shock, panicking, and I didn’t know what to do.”
The accused tried to hide the knife behind the washer and dryer in Grasley’s residence but decided against it.
‘The knife was not there’
Sels testified that Grasley then took the knife from Sels, hid it in the lining of the couch in the living room, and told him to go hide under the bed where he was later discovered by police.
Also testifying on Wednesday was Sergeant Neil McNamara, who was working in the criminal investigation division for the Greater Sudbury Police Service in 2018.
McNamara was one of the officers who searched Grasley’s home on Sept. 15 as part of the case. The witness testified he thoroughly searched the couch in the living room and did not find the murder weapon.
“The couch is a double recliner, so I moved all the contents off the couch and opened it up,” said McNamara.
“I checked underneath each seat, and then further turned the couch upside down to get a better look.”
McNamara said he found no evidence of a knife until he received a tip from another police officer three days later.
On Sept. 18, the sergeant returned to Grasley’s residence on The Kingsway. He testified that when he arrived, he found a knife in the inner lining of the left recliner on the couch.
Police officers seized the knife after they secured another search warrant for the residence.
Assistant Crown attorney Waltenbury asked McNamara if it was possible that he missed the knife during the first search.
“The knife was not there. I would have touched it,” he said.
Sels diagnosed with PTSD
Puskas also asked Sels about his early life experiences in court on Wednesday when it was revealed that the accused has been diagnosed with complex-PTSD (CPTSD) from prolonged exposure to domestic violence as a child.
Sels testified he witnessed his father punch and strangle his mother during multiple incidents when he was as young as four.
When the accused was “a little older,” he also witnessed his stepfather physically assault his sister – a crime for which the stepfather was convicted.
Sels was diagnosed with CPTSD at 15. He said that it causes panic attacks, anxiety, and depression and he has been on medication consistently to manage his symptoms.
“When bad things happen, I just retreat inside my head, so I don’t get hurt,” he said.
The accused’s diagnosis was further exacerbated by childhood bullying, the court heard, until Sels reached high school.
“When violent situations happen, I panic, I get anxiety, and I handle it differently than other people,” said the accused.
Assistant Crown attorney Kaely Whillans called into question the accused’s concern for Grasley’s well-being, asking Sels if he considered removing her from the argument that occurred on the shared deck or if he stopped at any point to determine whether she was injured.
“I agree that her actions weren’t reasonable, but I wasn’t going to physically move her myself. She’s a grown woman. She can do what she wants,” said Sels.
Sels testified that Grasley was “up and walking around” and talking to him, so he assumed that she was OK.
It was also revealed the accused changed his clothes at some point after the incident. Sels said that he “put on comfy clothes – track pants and a T-shirt”, because he “assumed he was going to jail.”
Sels said he didn’t recall at which point he removed the clothes he was wearing, but he put them in the suitcase he brought with him.
Following the incident, the accused said that he was “worried and scared” that he had hurt someone, but he was unaware of the extent of St. Jean’s injuries.
“I didn’t think I hurt someone enough to kill them,” he said.
The trial is set to continue on Thursday, when Whillans will continue her cross-examination.
Colleen Romaniuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Sudbury Star. The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.