Raymond Cormier's defence tried to have case thrown out due to lack of evidence
Jurors begin deliberating after receiving instructions from Chief Justice Glenn Joyal
The jury has begun deliberations to determine whether Raymond Cormier is guilty of the murder of Tina Fontaine, despite an attempt by Cormier's defence last week asking for the case to be tossed out due to a lack of evidence.
Jury members were not in the room when the defence made the motion asking Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal for a "directed verdict," meaning they wanted Joyal to acquit Cormier rather than put the decision in the hands of the jury.
After the Crown rested their case, Cormier's defence team asked the judge to dismiss the case because they said there was not enough evidence to convict Cormier.
Joyal rejected the motion, arguing there is enough evidence for the jury to come to their own decision in the case.
After Joyal rejected the motion, Cormier became visibly upset and demanded to speak with his lawyers. After a brief discussion, the jury was brought in and Cormier's defence told the court they would not be calling any of their own evidence in the case.
Cormier, 56, has pleaded not-guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Fontaine, 15, from Sagkeeng First Nation. Her 72-pound body was pulled from the Red River near the Alexander Docks on Aug. 17, 2014.
Cormier's trial is being heard by a jury of seven women and four men. A 12th juror was dismissed partway through the trial due to a family emergency.
Defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn argued that the Crown's case was built on "inference over inference," and that no jury, properly instructed, could come to a guilty verdict.
Synyshyn said that there is no conclusive evidence that Tina died as a result of an unlawful act. Due to the way her body was found, it can be inferred that someone didn't want it to be found, but that is where it should stop, Synyshyn argued.
"I would submit in this case the cause of death is circumstantial. What we have is a pathologist and toxicologist who cannot tell us how she died," Synyshyn said. "We have in this case, specifically … an absence of a cause of death, and the Crown is arguing they should infer a cause of death."
Joyal pointed out that a pathologist testified that the disposal of the body was suspicious and drowning couldn't be ruled out as a cause of death.
"There are successful cases where the body hasn't been discovered. It's not a conversation stopper to say that because the death is circumstantial, that there isn't anything there for a jury to find," Joyal said.
With regard to the evidence submitted by the Crown in secretly recorded conversations with Cormier, Synyshyn said there is nothing in them which the jury could use to convict Cormier.
Joyal disagreed, arguing that Cormier made statements that police interpreted as admissions of guilt.
"If it's possible for them to come to a reasonable inference, to conclude that that piece of the evidence can be interpreted that way, to take that possibility away would be to usurp their function," Joyal said.
Synyshyn also argued that because no place of death could be determined, the jurisdiction of the court could be called into question. Joyal rejected that argument as well.
"Your position is that unless the Crown has direct evidence the crime occurred in a province, then they haven't proved jurisdiction on that crime. How do you justify then those cases where murder takes place but the body hasn't found?
"It's evidence a jury can grapple with. That's not what a trial judge is supposed to do, usurp the the jury's ability to judge," Joyal argued.
Jury receives instructions
Joyal took a little more than four hours to deliver his instructions Wednesday on how they should apply the law when determining whether or not Cormier is guilty of killing Tina Fontaine.
The jury will remain sequestered until they reach a decision.
Over the course of three weeks, the jury heard from around 50 witnesses, as well as listening to hours of conversations with Cormier in interviews with police, as well as secretly recorded conversations made during an undercover police operation.
Crown and defence wrapped up their closing arguments on Tuesday.
Chief Justice Joyal told the jury that his instructions are meant to help the jury make a decision, not to tell them what decision to make.
In his instructions, Joyal summarized the arguments put forward by both the Crown and defence, and the evidence used in support of both positions. He also advised the jury on how they should consider evidence.
He advised them on how they should handle testimony from witnesses who have histories of drug use and criminal records. While they should handle that evidence carefully, he said, the jurors should look for independent evidence from other sources that backs up their testimony.
The Crown had no scientific or forensic evidence tying Cormier to Tina's killing. Their case relied on statements made by Cormier in those secretly recorded conversations, which the Crown argued amounted to admissions to the crime.
They also relied on testimony from witnesses who said Cormier had the same kind of duvet cover found with Tina's body, that he had sex with the underage girl, and that he had a stolen truck that would have provided the means to dispose of her body.
Cormier's defence argues that the Crown's case is a "house of cards" built on inferences made from statements in recordings that are difficult to hear. The defence argued that Cormier's statements, rather than admissions of guilt to the killing, should be interpreted as expressions of guilt that Cormier didn't do more to help the girl.
The defence also challenged the reliability and credibility of the Crown's witnesses.
With files from Caroline Barghout