A Fraser Valley man has been found guilty of second-degree murder after killing a romantic partner in a Kamloops motel suite in 2016.
Debra Novacluse, 52, was found dead by staff at the Super 8 Motel in Aberdeen on Aug. 27, 2016. David Albert Miller, now 69, was arrested days later in Ontario and has been in custody since.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church rendered her verdict Friday, finding Miller guilty of second-degree murder. Miller had been charged with first-degree murder because prosecutors alleged Novacluse’s death was tied to a sex assault.
Church ruled Miller had intent to kill Novacluse but said she wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the slaying was part of a sexual assault.
Miller and Novacluse were visiting Kamloops from Abbotsford in the summer of 2016. Following his arrest, Miller told police he was responsible for Novacluse’s death, but said it was a result of accidental asphyxiation or rough sex gone too far.
A forensic pathologist testified Novacluse’s cause of death could have been asphyxiation or blunt-force trauma.
In closing arguments in mid-February, defence lawyer Jim Heller suggested Miller was too drunk to form intent and therefore cannot be guilty of murder.
But Crown prosecutor Neil Wiberg, in his closing submissions, pointed to Miller’s actions on video surveillance and in a Facebook Live video taken hours before Novacluse was killed.
Wiberg said the videos do not show a drunk man, but “a man full of energy and able to perform complex tasks with no impairment of his motor skills.”
The video shows Miller at Cascades Casino, located across Hugh Allan Drive from the motel, bragging about how much money he had.
Wiberg also highlighted the fact Miller told police he discarded Novacluse’s belongings at various points along the highway while driving from Kamloops to Calgary after she died. A police officer testified he found Novacluse’s purse in a ditch near Sicamous.
Based on the evidence, Church found that Miller did not appear overly intoxicated.
Church said Miller was not credible, noting his conflicting reports to police of how Novacluse died — initially she had been hitting him and he tried holding her down, then admitting he choked her during rough sex that went to far before adding they got in an argument over him bringing another woman back to the room with him from the casino.
Church said she did not believe Miller’s statement that Novacluse wanted him to choke her as part of consensual sex that went to far, saying this seemed contrived and meant to take the blame off of him. She also said the details he provided about the alleged sexual activity were vague and inconsistent.
She said it was notable he didn’t refer to any of the other violence he may have directed at Novacluse that would account for the damage to her face and head.
Church said what was consistent from the accused not matter how many times his story changed was the notion that Novacluse had become angry and violent with him.
“That consistent thread, in my view, supports the conclusion that an argument or altercation precipitated the accused choking and beating Ms. Novacluse until she died rather than any consensual sexual activity,” Church said.
She said that conclusion is consistent with Miller’s admission that Novacluse became upset and jealous of his attraction to the woman he had brought back to the room and consistent with that woman from the casino who testified that Miller and Novacluse had been arguing when she and her male friend were asked to leave the room at about 4 a.m.
The woman testified that Novacluse was alive and appeared unhurt when they left and no one else had been in the room.
A second-degree murder conviction carries with it an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
A date for Miller’s sentencing hearing, at which Church will decide on a period of parole ineligibility, has not been set.