Judge to give verdict in trial of man who admitted to killing four women in Winnipeg

Judge to give verdict in trial of man who admitted to killing four women in Winnipeg

A judge is scheduled to give his decision today in the first-degree murder trial of a man who admitted to killing four women in Winnipeg.

Lawyers for Jeremy Skibicki argue he should be found not criminally responsible and say he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the slayings in 2022.

But Crown prosecutors say he had the mental capacity and awareness to commit and cover up the killings.

They have characterized the killings as racially motivated and say the 37-year-old targeted the Indigenous women at homeless shelters.

The case sparked calls for governments and organizations to address the ongoing issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

A first-degree murder verdict would carry an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, while a finding of not criminally responsible means Skibicki would be detained in a hospital until a review board determines he is no longer a threat to the public.

The weeks-long trial heard from two forensic psychiatrists who presented opposing motivations for the slayings of the four women: Morgan Harris, 39; Marcedes Myran, 26; Rebecca Contois, 24; and an unidentified woman an Indigenous grassroots community has named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Contois was from O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and Harris and Myran were from Long Plain First Nation. All three were living in Winnipeg when they were killed.

The only evidence police have pointing to the identity of Buffalo Woman is DNA found on the cuff of a woman’s jacket.

Dr. Sohom Das, who testified for the defence, said Skibicki felt compelled to kill the women because he was on a mission from God and heard auditory hallucinations coaxing him to kill.

Das said Skibicki knew at the time the killings were legally wrong but lacked the capacity to know they were morally wrong.

Court heard Skibicki has a history of mental illness, including depression, borderline personality disorder and thoughts of suicide. But he was not previously diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, a Crown-appointed expert, testified Skibicki likely has anti-social and substance abuse disorders but did not have an active major mental health disorder at the time of the slayings.

Chaimowitz said he believes Skibicki was driven to kill because of his sexual interest in the dead.

The killings came to light in May 2022, when a man looking for scrap metal found the partial remains of Contois in a dumpster in Skibicki’s neighbourhood. More of her remains were discovered at a city-run landfill the following month.

During a police interrogation, Skibicki admitted to killing Contois and the three other women. He said the killings were racially motivated and cited white supremacist beliefs.

Court heard he assaulted the women, strangled or drowned them and committed sex acts on their bodies before disposing of them in garbage bins.

Buffalo Woman was killed in March of that year. Harris and Myran were killed in May.

The Crown said it doesn’t believe there are additional victims.

In 2022, police said they believed the remains of Harris and Myran were taken to another landfill outside the city but a search of that site would be too complex and dangerous.

There were countrywide protests demanding a search of the Prairie Green landfill. The federal and Manitoba governments recently committed a combined $40 million for a search, which is expected to start in the fall.

The federal government has a support line for those affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness Helpline, with support in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

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