APTN National News
The murder conviction of a Saskatchewan Cree woman facing a life sentence for the killing of a Medicine Hat, Alta., man is based on a “legal fiction,” according to documents filed with the Appeal Court of Alberta Monday.
Connie Oakes was found guilty by a jury on Nov. 15, 2013, of killing Casey Armstrong who was found dead in the bathtub of his Medicine Hat trailer during the May 2011 long-weekend with a large puncture-wound through his neck. Oakes was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years.
Oakes has insisted she is innocent of the murder.
Police found no murder weapon, DNA evidence or fingerprints tying Oakes, 50, to the murder. The only evidence came from a woman with an IQ of 50 by the name of Wendy Scott, 30, who said she was there when Oakes killed Armstrong.
Before Oakes’ trial, Scott pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. The Crown built its case against Oakes based on Scott’s murder confession and testimony, which was riddled with contradictions.
The foundation for the case against Oakes took a major hit in October when the Court of Appeal of Alberta quashed Scott’s conviction and struck her guilty plea. The ruling followed a concession by the Crown handling the appeal that there were not enough grounds to support Scott’s guilty plea on second-degree murder.
Scott is now facing a new trial and her arraignment hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17 in Medicine Hat.
Oakes’ lawyers have filed an amended notice of appeal partly based on Scott’s wrongful conviction.
Oakes’ lawyers Alexandra Seaman and Aleksandra Simic argue that because Scott’s guilty plea has been struck her client’s conviction now rests on a “legal fiction” and should also be overturned.
“There is an even bigger legal elephant in the room. Whatever individual or cumulative legal errors may be posited or advanced in critique of the treatment of the guilty plea, there is a unique feature to this case in light of the Court of Appeal judgement (in the Scott case) and that factor is akin to a legal fiction,” said the lawyers in their submission filed with the court. “At all times in the proceedings…the trier of fact (judge) was actually weighing a wrongful conviction and had before them, what we now know to be a legally unsupported mode of criminal liability for murder.”
The quashing of Scott’s conviction also leads into another facet of Oakes’ amended appeal filing which argues the Medicine Hat Crown who handled the case, Andrea Dolan, “engaged in multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct” by exaggerating the meaning of Scott’s confession in statements to the jury.
In particular, Oakes’ lawyer argues, that Dolan tried to paint the decision by Oakes’ lawyer to keep her from the stand — which is her right — as proof she was guilty.
Seaman and Simic’s submission puts the focus on Dolan’s opening statement and quotes parts deemed troubling.
“We may never know why Casey was murdered. Only Connie knows,” stated Dolan, during the opening statement. “Wendy entered a guilty plea to second degree murder… in this courtroom. She sat in the box. The charge of murder was read and she said she was guilty and she said that Connie did it too. With tears streaming down her face, she then turned to Casey’s two kids … and said she was sorry.’
Oakes’ lawyers argued Dolan went too far.
“Drawing upon Ms. Scott’s assumption of responsibility, when coupled with the rhetoric ‘only Connie knows,’ it belittled the appellant’s right to silence,” said Seaman and Simic in their submission. “Troubling yet still, as revealed (previously), a review of the transcripts of (Scott’s proceedings) call into question whether the actual words of Ms. Scott in those proceedings were presented in a balanced fashion, thus making the transgression from principles of fair play even more acute.”
The latest appeal filing builds on previously submitted fresh evidence that includes an affidavit from Scott who now claims that she doesn’t believe Oakes was at the trailer when Armstrong was killed. Oakes’ appeal filing also includes an affidavit from Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, who was told by Scott that Oakes wasn’t involved in the murder.
Scott has stated in sworn affidavits that she was high on drugs during police interrogations which occurred several months longer than was disclosed to the defence before Oakes’ trial. Scott has also stated that police interrogators suggested evidence to her, including pointing out the car believed to have been used in the killing.
APTN previously reported that Dolan possessed a file outlining details of the red car that police believed was used, but never introduced them during the trial. The details included the make of the car, a Grand Am, and that it was owned by a woman who once lived in Saskatchewan. The woman told APTN she sold the car before the murder happened for drugs and cash to a dealer nicknamed “Ginger.” Ginger, who has red hair, was also initially named by Scott as the culprit of the murder. Scott also accused two men of the crime before admitting her own role and accusing Oakes.
An eye-witness testified during Oakes’ November 2013 trial that she saw two women in Armstrong’s driveway on the Saturday morning after Armstrong was killed putting a bag into the trunk of a red car. The witness testified that one of the women had red hair.
Police also found a size 11E bloody boot print in the bathroom were Armstrong was found. The source of the boot print has never been identified.
Oakes’ appeal hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12.