APTN National News
OTTAWA — The Excutive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies is calling for a full public inquiry into the wrongful conviction of Connie Oakes.
“She never should have been convicted in the first place,” said Kim Pate Friday. “It behooves the government to actually look into how on earth this could have happened. We want to know how this happened.”
Oakes, 51, is the Cree woman released in the early morning hours Friday after serving two years and five months of a life sentence for the 2011 murder of Casey Armstrong. Oakes has always maintained her innocence.
On Thursday, the Crown in Medicine Hat, Alta., where the Oakes trial took place, requested a stay of proceedings in the matter.
“Why did the Crown decide to proceed in the first place with that kind of tenuous evidence? What happened in terms of why the judges made the decisions they did? I think that at every level this requires an examination,” said Pate. “And it’s certainly clear to me that racism and probably gender bias played a part in it as well and we feel that should be examined.”
But any hope of a public review or inquiry was shut down, at least temporarily Friday by Alberta’s justice minister.
Kathleen Ganley said it would be “inappropriate” for her to comment on an individual file including the Oakes’ case and said it’s up to the Crown to decide what to do with these cases.
“Prosecutors will exercise their discretion and their best judgement on those cases,” said Ganley. “Certainly we think it’s critical to ensure that all Albertans have access to a fair justice system.”
Ganley was also asked whether the courts in Alberta have a process to deal with convictions that are overturned.
“The court’s process is sort of their own process so when a conviction is overturned, the court who is doing the overturning will usually direct what they want to have happen going forward,” said Ganley. “And then the prosecution service will respond to that and the individual prosecutor will make the decision on how to proceed forward.”
Oakes is now enroute to her home in the Cyprus Hills of Saskatchewan and the Nekaneet First Nation where her family lives.
““I still can’t believe it,” said Oakes.
Oakes was convicted by a jury of five men and seven women. None were First Nation.
There was no DNA, fingerprints or murder weapon presented at trial by Crown prosecutor Andrea Dolan, and her star witness, Wendy Herman Scott, admitted to lying to police during her interrogation and under oath at trial.
What police never figured out is who owned the bloody boot print found at the scene, inside the bathroom where Armstrong was killed.
Medicine Hat police investigators tried tracking down the source of the partial boot print. They sent the image to an RCMP footwear database in Ottawa in hopes of finding a match, but came up empty. They also went to the local Walmart and compared boot treads.
Oakes isn’t clear of this case yet.
The Crown has a year to produce fresh evidence that could see her back in an Alberta court facing a similar charge.
That fresh evidence could come from Wendy Scott. The Alberta Appeals Court ordered a new trial that is set for 2017.
Kim Pate would like to see the system deal with her case sooner.
“I think the charges against her should be stayed and she should be released,” said Pate. “Clearly this is someone who has significant capacity issues and in what context could it have been feasible that they accepted a guilty plea from someone who may not even fully understand the full consequences of that and then use those statements as the primary evidence against Connie.”