(( Connie Oakes on the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan is one of two women wrongfully convicted of killing Casey Armstrong in Alberta. Photo: APTN ))
APTN National News
A public inquiry should be called to investigate how two women were wrongfully convicted of the same southern Alberta murder, says Sen. Kim Pate.
Pate, the former head of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said an inquiry should probe the actions of the Medicine Hat, Alta., police and the local Crown prosecutor who pushed the murder case against Connie Oakes, a Cree woman from Nekaneet First Nation, and Wendy Scott, a woman with an IQ of 50.
“There needs to be an investigation into the police actions with the respect with what the Medicine Hat police did in terms of their investigation and most importantly their lack of investigation into the evidence that was available,” said Pate, who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the Senate in October 2016. “There needs to be an investigation with what happened throughout the system thereafter… the role of the Crown with respect of their duties as officers of the court.”
Oakes and Scott were both sent to prison for the murder of Casey Armstrong, a 48 year old man who was found dead with a puncture wound through his neck in the bathtub of his Medicine Hat., Alta., trailer over the May 2011 long weekend.
Scott pleaded guilty to her role in the murder and was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 10 years. Oakes was found guilty of the murder by a jury, based exclusively on the testimony of Scott, and was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 14 years.
With no murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints or any other physical evidence, the Crown built its case entirely on the testimony of Scott, despite obvious contradictions and inconsistencies, including time of day the murder happened and how the killing happened. A large bloody boot print was found on the bathroom floor of Armstrong’s trailer that Medicine Hat police were never able to trace to a source.
On Friday, the murder case against both women was completely shattered. The Crown requested a stay of proceedings against Scott, who was facing a second trial before the Court of Queen’s Bench on first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges.
The stay was granted by Justice J.H. Langston during a hearing in Medicine Hat.
Scott’s initial guilty plea was struck and her conviction overturned in October 2015 by the Alberta Court of Appeal which ordered a new trial after the Crown admitted to a serious “error” in the case.
In April 2016, the Alberta Court of Appeal, citing the “unsavory witness” and “frailties in evidence” also ordered a new trial for Oakes and the Crown moved quickly to seek a stay in those proceedings.
The Alberta justice system now faces a troubling scenario: Two women wrongfully convicted of the same murder.
Pate said any inquiry into the case should also include an examination of what occurred throughout the system to ensure it doesn’t happen again, anywhere.
“I think broader than that, this really begs the question of how do we actually pursue conviction reviews in situations where there clearly have been miscarriages of justices,” said Pate. “I think for many Indigenous women and men, the manner in which the proceedings unfold against them also raise questions.”
Despite having its case completely pulverized, the Medicine Hat police continues to insist its “evidence” led to Oakes and Scott.
“We are disappointed in the decision. We respect the Crown’s decision to stay the charges,” said Insp. Tim McGough. “We will do our due diligence, review the file and major crime will look at it.”
McGough said police do not believe the real murderer is walking free in the local community.
“No, we don’t believe so,” said McGough. “It is a complicated file and I am not going to discuss investigative techniques.”
APTN’s investigation revealed police investigators did have evidence, including details of the red Grand Am believed to have been used in the murder, which pointed to other individuals as suspects in the killing.