Samantha Zeemel, 20, was found dead in an East St. Paul home in August 2007. ((Facebook))

A Manitoba judge has tossed out a first-degree murder charge against a Winnipeg man accused of killing his girlfriend in a bedroom community just north of Winnipeg.

As an early November trial looms for Jason Harvey McDowell, 29, he learned Wednesday that he will not face the most serious charge in the Criminal Code in connection to the killing of Samantha Gail Zeemel in 2007.

At the hearing, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin tossed out McDowell's indictment for first-degree murder. Instead, McDowell will face a charge of second-degree murder, which carries a less severe penalty upon conviction.

Convictions for both charges carry mandatory life sentences, however the starting point for parole eligibility for second-degree murder begins at 10 years, instead of the compulsory 25 years for premeditated murder.

The judge's reasons for quashing the original indictment are protected by a publication ban covering pre-trial hearings in the case. In 2009, provincial court Judge Marvin Garfinkel ordered McDowell to stand trial for first-degree murder on completion of a preliminary hearing in the case.

Zeemel, 20, was found shot dead inside a McGregor Farm Road home in East St. Paul on Aug. 19, 2007.


Jason Harvey McDowell will now face a lesser charge in connection to Zeemel's killing. ((RCMP))

McDowell was identified by police as a suspect, but was not located at the scene. Police surrounded the home for about five hours prior to entering it and finding Zeemel's body.

Police have never revealed any motive in the slaying.

Two days after the killing, RCMP issued a public advisory that McDowell was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant in connection to the killing and was to be considered armed and dangerous.

However, McDowell turned himself into RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg without incident a few hours after the public notice. He has been in custody ever since.

It is unknown if the Crown will appeal Martin's decision.

McDowell's trial is slated to begin on Nov. 15.