OTTAWA — Four days before calling 911 to report that he had stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death inside her Riverside Drive apartment, Tamrat Gebere decided to end his own life, he testified at his second-degree murder trial Tuesday.
Distraught over an ongoing battle to see his 17-month-old daughter regularly, Gebere testified that he skipped work at Citizenship and Immigration Canada for the second consecutive day, walked to the bus station on Catherine Street and bought a ticket for the next available bus, which happened to bound for Kingston.
“I couldn’t continue arguing about the child,” he told the court, hanging his head and covering his face in a break from his otherwise calm testimony.
Gebere admitted to killing the mother of his child, 32-year-old Aster Kassa, on July 17, 2010. Kassa was stabbed 53 times. Mother and daughter had been moving from shelter to shelter before getting an apartment of their own. They moved in just 18 hours before the killing.
A jury will decide if he is guilty of manslaughter, to which he has pleaded guilty, or to second-degree murder, the charge he faces.
Gebere told the court that he wandered around Kingston, planned to commit suicide in Lake Ontario, then checked into a hotel where he drank excessively and flipped through the yellow pages calling escorts.
“I thought, it’s my final day and I would spend it to the fullest,” he said. “My plan was to wake up in the middle of the night and jump in the lake.”
But Gebere slept through the night, and the next day he decided to pull his life “back together,” he said. That day he continued his bender and had a one-night stand with a friend of a friend — a woman whose name he said he could not remember. Early the next morning, he boarded a bus back to Ottawa and slept the whole day in his MacLaren Street apartment, he said.
The next day — a Saturday — he picked up some takeout Ethiopian food and took a cab to Kassa’s new apartment to help her assemble their daughter’s crib. The toddler was sleeping when he arrived, he said.
Gebere argued with Kassa about the crib he kept at his apartment, he said. Kassa wanted him to sell it now that she no longer lived in a shelter, he said. Gebere said he thought it was unreasonable when she told him she would no longer visit him at his apartment.
His testimony about what led to the stabbing that left Kassa dead on the mattress for her daughter’s crib continues Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gebere described how he tried to work through his tumultuous relationship with Kassa so that their daughter could grow up with two parents.
Gebere denied allegations that he was abusive.
The couple met in Toronto shortly after Kassa arrived in Canada from Ethiopia in April 2008. Kassa soon became pregnant and she eventually moved to Ottawa to live with Gebere as the due date drew closer.
Gebere, who was also born in Ethiopia, described how Kassa left him four months after giving birth and moved into a shelter in Toronto. She returned to Ottawa a few months later but refused to live with Gebere, court heard.
Court saw a series of photos: a smiling Gebere holding his daughter inside an Ottawa restaurant, the same pair playing on a patch of grass and the streamers, balloons and cake he bought at Hartman’s to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday at his apartment. Kassa was always present during the visits, he said.
On Mother’s Day, he made Kassa chicken stew. Mother and daughter had spent the previous night in his bed as he slept on the couch, he testified.
“I want you to feel proud you’re a mom,” he recalled telling her.
He testified that he offered her anything she wanted, and realized it was a mistake when she asked him for sex.
“Did you sleep with her?” defence lawyer Stuart Konyer asked.
“No,” Gebere answered. “After that, I couldn’t see my child. She denied me access after that.”
Gebere paid $1,000 retainer for a lawyer in June 2010 to begin a legal process to see his daughter. He testified that he also reported Kassa to the Canada Border Services Agency because he believed she had committed fraud.
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