British Columbia

Surprise guilty plea in B.C. woman's murder 'shocks' friends at national MMIWG ceremony

A man set to go on trial this week for murdering an Indigenous mother in 2014 has entered a surprise guilty plea. Leon Wokeley was charged in the killing of Pamela Napoleon, north of Fort St John. Napoleon was found in a burned out cabin — after she vanished from the Blueberry River First Nation.

Indigenous mother's remains found in burned out cabin in northern B.C. in 2014

Pamela Napoleon's family remembered the 42-year-old mother as a 'beautiful spirit.' (Facebook)

Connie Greyeyes was at the national ceremony for Canada's missing and murdered women on Monday in Quebec, when she got the news: the man charged with murdering her friend, Pamela Napoleon, had just entered a surprise guilty plea back in northeastern B.C.

"It was a complete shock for everyone," said Greyeyes, an advocate for families of missing and murdered women, who lives in Fort St John. 

Indigenous mother discovered in burned out cabin in 2014

That's where Leon Wokeley was scheduled to go on trial for second-degree murder this week, five years after Napoleon, an Indigenous mother, was discovered in a burned out trapper's cabin.

On the eve of the release of the national inquiry's report, Connie Greyeyes, 2nd from right, took part in a vigil on Parliament Hill for northern B.C.'s missing and murdered women. (Connie Greyeyes/Facebook )

But his guilty plea changed that.

The surprising news spread among victims' families gathered at the national inquiry's closing ceremony to honour the memories of thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women. 

"I screamed, and they cried, and it was very, very emotional," said Greyeyes. "The family was prepared to be dragged through that long trial, going to court daily, reliving the trauma they'd been going through since her remains were found."

Napoleon's sister said Pamela loved preparing traditional food, especially for her family and friends. Napoleon was killed in 2014, leaving behind two sons. (B.C. RCMP)

Napoleon vanished from northeastern First Nation

Pamela Napoleon was 42 years old when she vanished from the Blueberry River First Nation in northeastern B.C. in August, 2014.

Just over a week later, RCMP found human remains inside a burned out cabin, 30 kilometres away. Napoleon was identified through medical and dental records. But the fire had burned so hot, it was difficult to determine her cause of death.

RCMP said a special unit from the major crimes unit pored over hundreds of pieces of evidence. It still took three years before there was an arrest.

In 2017, Wokeley was charged with arson, interference with a dead body and with Napoleon's murder.

Connie Greyeyes has been speaking out for years about missing and murdered women, including family and friends who have died or disappeared in northeastern B.C. In 2013, she spoke on Parliament Hill. (Connie Greyeyes/Facebook )

An RCMP statement said Napoleon and Wokeley lived in the same community and knew each other, but Napoleon's death was not a domestic crime. 

'A beautiful spirit'

"She was a wonderful person — kind and considerate," said Greyeyes, who is close friends with Napoleon's two sons and her sister. "She loved her kids. Her family misses her dearly."

Napoleon's sister, Vanessa Apsassin, described Pamela as "a beautiful spirit" who loved camping, fishing, hunting, cooking and her Indigenous culture. 

Wokely will be back in court in Fort St John for a pre-sentence hearing July 15. The court has asked for a Gladue report, which means Indigenous cultural considerations could affect Wokeley's murder sentence. 

Gladue report could affect killer's sentence

The national inquiry has called for a further examination of the 'Gladue principles' in Canadian courts. Inquiry commissioner Qajaq Robinson said Monday that many victims' families told her at the hearings that, in some cases, Gladue is seen by offenders as a "get out of jail free card."

"Being able to look at a person's history is huge," said Greyeyes, "but it shouldn't be used to give somebody a slap on the wrist."

'Something terrible has happened'

Still, Greyeyes was grateful to learn Napoleon's family would get justice, a hope that echoed through the national inquiry into missing and murdered women.

"Something terrible has happened in Canada," said Greyeyes. "Government needs to step up and protect Indigenous women."