Crown tasked with rare case of no body and no identity in alleged serial killer case

Crown tasked with rare case of no body and no identity in alleged serial killer case

Winnipeg Police on December 1 charged Jeremy Skibicki with triple first-degree murder in the murders of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and an unidentified fourth woman.

Skibicki was in custody at the time and was facing another charge of first-degree murder in the death of Rebecca Contois. Her partial remains were found in a garbage can in May and the remainder were later discovered at a municipal landfill.

Harris and Myran’s bodies have not been found, but are believed to be in a private landfill outside of town.

Little is known about the unidentified fourth woman. Police believe she is an Indigenous woman in her 20s and was killed on or around March 15.

Police released photos of a reversible puffer-style jacket with a fur hood similar to what the victim may have been wearing in hopes of getting identification tips.

Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders call the woman Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, something the police have also adopted.

There are still ways to pursue a case in the absence of an identified victim, but it adds another layer of complexity, said Trask, who has no direct involvement or knowledge of the case and can only speak to generalities.

“Without a body, some forensic evidence that would otherwise appear in an indictment will be missing,” he said. “That’s definitely a hurdle in a situation like this.”

If there are similarities between the murders, it could influence how the Crown proceeds, Trask added.

The police have not commented on how Skibicki could have known the women. Family members of the women said they were in a vulnerable position and called on police and governments to address safety concerns for tribal women and girls.

Lawyers prosecuting Canada’s most prolific serial killers have been tasked with arguing a no-identity murder charge, and only part remains to be relied on.

Robert Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007 but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing on Vancouver’s downtown Eastside. He buried the women around his pig farm.

Pickton initially faced 27 murder charges, one of which was an unidentified woman named “Jane Doe.” A judge overturned those charges, citing a lack of evidence as to their identity and time of death.

John Ahern was part of a team representing the Crown in the Pickton case.

“You imagine the defense side is trying to defend a murder charge and the Crown doesn’t say who was murdered and when, you can see the puzzle for the trial judge and the jury,” Ahern said in a recent interview.

Prosecutors were forced to rely on a combination of DNA found at Pickton’s farm and evidence from witnesses.

In a situation where there is no body, the Crown needs “a lot of circumstantial evidence, not direct evidence,” Ahern said.

A Winnipeg judge recently sentenced a man to 16 years in prison for manslaughtering a missing cleaner.

Eduardo Balaquit went missing in 2018 and his body was never found.

A jury was pleased with the Crown’s case and found Kyle Pietz guilty in his disappearance.

Prosecutors relied on surveillance video, bank transactions and cell phone tracking to argue that Pietz killed Balaquit during a robbery and disposed of his body in a rural area.

Police have not commented on any evidence they uncovered in the investigation into Skibicki, but one of the prosecutors assigned to the case said the Crown was confident in what police had put forward to bring the first-degree murder charge.

“We will be able to identify all four homicides, but specifically the murder of the unknown victim, although at this point we do not know who that individual is,” said Chris Vanderhooft.

He said the fact that a victim has not been identified should not change the Crown’s case.

“We will continue to do our work and continue to meet with the families of the victims and do the things that are needed in each of these cases.”

A hearing date is still pending. Skibicki remains in custody.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 16, 2022.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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