(Wendy Scott alleges in an affidavit she was stoned during interrogations where police fed her evidence to build a murder case against Connie Oakes. Facebook photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A star witness for an Alberta Crown prosecutor says she was fed evidence by police while stoned during “coercive” interrogations to build a murder case against a Cree woman, according to court documents filed with the Court of Appeal of Alberta.
The mentally “frail” witness also says police interrogated her for six months longer than was disclosed during the murder trial of Connie Oakes, 49, who is now serving a 14 year sentence in the Edmonton Institution for Women, according to appeal documents filed by Oakes’ lawyer.
A Medicine Hat, Alta., jury found Oakes guilty in April 2014 of second-degree murder in the killing of a local man named Casey Armstrong who was found dead in the bathtub of his blood-splattered bathroom.
Oakes, who is from Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan, insists she’s innocent. Oakes says she was nowhere near Armstrong’s trailer during the May 2011 long-weekend when the 48 year-old man was killed by a knife plunged through the throat.
With no murder weapon, DNA evidence or fingerprints, Andrea Dolan, a Crown prosecutor in Medicine Hat, built her murder case against Oakes on the testimony of Wendy Scott, 29, a self-described small-time crack dealer. Scott pleaded guilty to the killing in a separate case and later testified she saw Oakes kill Armstrong.
Now Scott has a lawyer and is trying to have her own guilty plea struck down, according to the appeal documents. She is also recanting the testimony used by the Crown to convince a jury that Oakes murdered the father of two children, according to appeal documents filed Dec. 12 in Calgary.
Oakes’ Edmonton lawyer Aleksandra Simic is seeking to have the appeal court hear the case based on “fresh evidence” with the aim of having the murder conviction quashed and Oakes acquitted. The fresh evidence is based on two sealed affidavits, according to the appeal filing.
One affidavit is from Scott and the other is from Kim Pate, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society. Pate’s affidavit is based on a discussion with Scott during which she allegedly recanted her testimony placing Oakes at the scene of the murder.
In her affidavit Scott “provides an explanation of why she implicated Ms. Oakes in the homicide,” according to a summary of the sworn document contained in the appeal filing. Scott alleges in the affidavit she was shown crime scene photographs and provided evidence during allegedly coercive police interrogations that occurred on a weekly basis for six months. She alleges in the affidavit police provided the details of the case before she was sat down for “eventual recorded interviews.”
Scott alleges in her affidavit she wasn’t taking prescribed medication during those interrogations, but “was under the influence of drug contraband.”
The appeal filing alleges those six months of interrogations were also not disclosed during Oakes’ trial.
“At trial, it appeared to be common ground that Ms. Scott…participated in police interviews and/or provided statements on Dec. 6, 2011, (and) Jan. 5, 7 and 10, 2012,” according to the filing. “Ms. Scott now swears that she participated in weekly interviews and meetings with police between the periods of June 2011 to December 2011.”
In a previous interview with APTN National News, Medicine Hat police Sgt. Brent Secondiak said investigators believed Scott was telling the truth based on the level of details she provided about the murder.
“She knew details about this that no one else could have known unless they were there or where told by the person who did it,” said Secondiak, who took over the investigation after it had stalled for several months.
Scott also swears in her affidavit that she suffers from mental illness and has a “demonstrated IQ of 50.” According to Statistics Canada’s “health state descriptions” an IQ score ranging from 50 to 69 indicates “mild retardation.”
In a previous interview with APTN, Dolan, the Crown prosecutor, said Scott’s child-like testimony made her believable to the jury.
“Almost child-like, her evidence was…Children and people who present in that cognitive manner often exude a credibility that many adults don’t,” said Dolan.
Oakes’ appeal filing interprets Scott’s mental state in a different light.
“The proposed evidence is relevant and bears upon decisive issues of potential outstanding disclosure, which could have impacted trial fairness, conduct of trial and impeachment of chief Crown witness…as well as the reliability and credibility of important evidence…relied upon (by) the Crown to identify Mr. Armstrong’s killers and marshalled in support of Ms. Oakes’ guilt,” said the filing. “Ms. Scott’s recantation is not only significant from a potential impeachment value, given that this is the sole evidence which implicated the applicant, but also tackles the very reliability of a frail witness both in terms of mental health difficulties and limited cognitive abilities who admits to not only having failed to avail herself of prescribed medication, but also admits to illicit drug use in the course of her interactions with police.”
The appeal filing states that Oakes’ Edmonton trial lawyer Daryl Royer learned Scott recanted her testimony at some point between the jury’s finding of guilt in April and Oakes’ sentencing on June 5 of this year.
“Subsequent to sentencing of Ms. Oakes, Ms. Scott engaged counsel to assist her in striking her own guilty plea and has provided an affidavit indicating, among other things, her now belief that Ms. Oakes was never present at the crime scene and that her evidence, both self-incriminating and that which served to implicated Ms. Oakes in the homicide…was the product of coercive police tactics,” said the filing.
There were problems with Scott’s story throughout Oakes’ trial.
Royer, the defense lawyer during the trial, counted 55 inconsistencies in Scott’s testimony, including whether Armstrong was dead before or after he was placed in the bathtub where he was later found by a friend. It also emerged that Scott accused three other people of the murder before naming Oakes.
There were also problems with a knife submitted by the Crown as evidence against Oakes. The kitchen knife, which Scott initially claimed was Oakes’ favorite, came back negative for any trace of blood despite two forensic examinations.
Secondiak admitted to APTN police couldn’t prove the knife was used in the murder despite the fact it was entered as evidence at trial.
There was also the issue of a large, bloody boot-print found in Armstrong’s bathroom. Medicine Hat police were never able to trace the source of the print.
Oakes has two sons, including one who is battling Leukemia.