Edmonton

Why the murder case against the 'Mill Woods Rapist' collapsed

CBC News has learned more details about why the charge against Dana Fash was stayed, and about how Jeanette Cardinal died eight years ago.

Second-degree murder charge against Dana Fash stayed earlier this month

Dana Michael Fash, released earlier this month after a murder charge against him was stayed, is now back in custody after allegedly breaching a release condition. (Edmonton Police Service)

When Jeanette Marie Cardinal's family made arrangements to bury her in 2011, the funeral home suggested she be draped in a scarf to hide her injuries.

Police have never revealed the cause of Cardinal's death. But a source has told CBC News the 44-year-old woman was beaten and strangled.

"There were several bruises on her body ... and her hands were all bruised up and everything," Theresa Cardinal, the oldest of the victim's four children, told the CBC project Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls.

Detectives pinpointed a person of interest days after Cardinal's body was found in her daughter's apartment in February 2011. But it took police nearly six years to charge Dana Michael Fash with second-degree murder.

A detective announced at the time that the break in the case had come through technological advances in forensic testing.

Jeanette Marie Cardinal was found dead in a north-Edmonton apartment on Feb. 7, 2011. (Provided)

A source told CBC that Fash's DNA had been found on a piece of the victim's clothing. The DNA could be used to establish contact between Cardinal and Fash, but did not prove the encounter was violent.

Fash spent more than two years in remand awaiting a trial that was supposed to begin on April 1.

The Crown had submitted a list of 50 potential witnesses who could be called to give evidence. A pretrial conference scheduled for Feb. 21 was cancelled on Feb. 11, and two days later the prosecutor notified court he was staying the second-degree murder charge against Fash.

Crown and defence lawyers assigned to the case both refused to say why the charge was stayed.

"Circumstances have significantly changed over time and the existence of a reasonable likelihood of conviction no longer exists in this case," an Alberta Justice spokesperson said in an email.

A CBC News source has revealed the case collapsed at the 11th hour due to potential problems with testimony from key witnesses. One person had changed their story and another suffered brain damage in an unrelated incident. A third witness has died.

The victim's daughter said she was devastated when she was told the trial had been cancelled and the charge had been stayed.

"I'm just as lost as I was eight years ago receiving the news that I did about my mom," Theresa Cardinal said. "I hoped for justice. It's a shame that we can't move forward. We can't get the closure that we need."

The Crown has one year to reactivate the murder charge if new information comes forward.

"They said hopefully they come together with new stuff," Theresa Cardinal said. "New evidence or a new person who would come forward or whatever, right? That's basically all they told me."

Fash back in custody

Fash, 40, was released from custody after the murder charge was stayed on Feb. 13.

That night, Edmonton police issued a public warning about his release, referring to Fash as a violent sexual offender.

"The Edmonton Police Service has reasonable grounds to believe he will commit another violent offence against someone while in the community," the warning said.

Edmonton police outside a home where officers arrested Dana Fash on Feb. 21, 2019. (Barb Sharpe/Facebook)

Fash was arrested at his mother's house on Feb. 21 after allegedly breaching conditions related to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, police said.

He remains in custody and is scheduled to make a court appearance on March 1.

Court records show no bail hearing has been scheduled.

A woman who lives across the street from Fash's mother said she dreads the possibility of his eventual release. Barb Sharpe explained what she would do if she spotted him outside shovelling, as she did last week.

Barb Sharpe is worried about the prospect of Dana Fash being released and living in her Edmonton neighbourhood. (CBC News )

"We won't come out and shovel our walks," Sharpe said. "We stay inside our house. We stay directly in the backyard. I've got kids. So does everybody else on this block. This is absolutely terrifying for our community."

Troubled past

Fash has spent much of his adult life behind bars.

In November 1994, he forced his way into a 65-year old woman's home and grabbed a knife from her kitchen. The woman escaped but Fash caught her, sexually assaulted her and left her in the snow, apparently unconscious.

One month later, while wearing a mask, Fash hid in a school bathroom where a 44-year old woman was cleaning. He threatened the victim with a pair of scissors and demanded money.

Fash punched and sexually assaulted the woman before fleeing the scene.

He was intoxicated at the time of the offences, and his DNA was found at both crime scenes, according to parole board documents.

Later dubbed the "Mill Woods Rapist," Fash was given a 12-year prison sentence for both crimes.

According to parole board documents, Fash began drinking alcohol and stealing cars at age 10. By 11, he was using marijuana, hashish, LSD and magic mushrooms, and cocaine by age 14. He dropped out of school in Grade 10.

The documents state Fash was sexually abused when he was seven years old, and suffered verbal and physical abuse as a child.

"I suspect that Mr. Fash can be quite manipulative and capable of disruptive and aggressive behavior," a psychologist noted in an intake assessment conducted at a federal prison in 1997. "His presentation during this interview suggested a psychopathic/antisocial component to his character."

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston