Calgary

'She's coming home': Connie Oakes free after murder charge stayed by Alberta Crown

A woman from Medicine Hat, Alta., who was the victim of a "miscarriage of justice" is finally free after being convicted of murder based on the testimony of a witness with inconsistent testimony and an IQ of 50.

Earlier this month Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial

Connie Oakes is out of prison after the Crown stayed the second-degree murder charge against her. The Court of Appeal found she was found guilty on the testimony of a witness with inconsistent testimony and an IQ of 50. (CBC)

A Medicine Hat woman who was the victim of a "miscarriage of justice" is free after a years-long ordeal that saw her tried and convicted of murder.

"She's finally coming home," Connie Oakes's cousin, Linda Oakes, told CBC News as she and other family members were driving to the Edmonton Institution for Women to pick up their relative.

Earlier in April, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned Oakes's 2013 murder conviction — a finding based on the evidence of a witness with inconsistent testimony and an IQ of 50. The Appeal Court ordered a new trial.

The panel of judges acknowledged the issues at Oakes's first trial and concluded a "miscarriage of justice" had occurred.

On Thursday, the executive director of regional prosecution, Oorest Yereniuk, appeared in a Medicine Hat courtroom and stayed the charge against Oakes.

"I'm excited, I'm happy," said Linda. "This is the day we waited for for a long, long time."

"The truth finally came out."

Seven months ago, when CBC News spoke to Connie Oakes in an Edmonton prison, she was dreaming of the day she'd be released and go back to Nekaneet First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

"It's a farm and my mom still has some cattle, some horses, I'm just going to go home and raise cattle, raise my grandson," she said.

After a charge is stayed, the Crown has one year to re-commence the prosecution, but it is rare for that to happen.

"It is possible to re-activate the charge after a stay of proceedings," said Alberta Justice spokesperson Michelle Davio. 

"No further comment will be provided as the charges against Ms. Scott remain before the court."

Casey Armstrong, 48, was found dead in his Medicine Hat trailer in May 2011. He had been stabbed in the neck. 

Two women, Oakes and Wendy Scott, were charged with murder. Scott pleaded guilty to second-degree murder but in October, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned her conviction and ordered a new trial.

'Racist case'

The Crown consented to a new trial on the basis that the evidence presented to the original trial judge did not support a finding of second-degree murder.

There were about 50 contradictions in Scott's testimony at Oakes's trial.

There was no forensic evidence presented at Oakes's trial linking her to the murder; rather the prosecutor relied on Scott's testimony.

Despite the inconsistencies in Scott's evidence, a jury found Oakes guilty of second-degree murder and she was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 14 years.

Though they're excited to have her home, Oakes' family is outraged she was charged in the first place.

"It was a racist case," said Linda Oakes. "The justice system in Canada has severely failed First Nations people."

Missed son's funeral

Oakes has been behind bars for more than four years. She was arrested several months after Armstrong's death.

In that time, Oakes's 23-year-old son was diagnosed and died of cancer.

"He hung in there for the longest time," said Linda.

Oakes's request to attend his funeral last year was denied, says Linda.

"A lot has been taken from her," said Linda. "She was unable to attend her son's funeral which to me was just heartless, spending all that time in jail there for something that she didn't do."

Only one of Oakes' three sons is still alive. It was his 14th birthday on Wednesday. 

"He misses his mama lots."

"We didn't tell him yet, we're going to surprise him. It's going to be a very good surprise and a good birthday."

now