Case against 2 men accused in Jeanenne Fontaine's death hinges on robbery argument, lawyers say
Closing arguments in trial for Christopher Brass and Jason Meilleur presented Wednesday
Whether or not two men accused of manslaughter in the death of Jeanenne Fontaine are guilty hinges on whether they went to her house to commit a robbery, lawyers said during closing arguments in a Winnipeg courtroom on Wednesday.
Christopher Brass and Jason Meilleur are charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of Jeanenne Fontaine.
Fontaine, a cousin of Tina Fontaine — whose 2014 killing sparked calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women — was killed in 2017.
Jeanenne was shot in the back of the head inside her home on Winnipeg's Aberdeen Avenue, near Salter Street, on March 14, 2017. The house was then set on fire.
Brass and Meilleur have both pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge.
Over the course of the week-and-a-half-long Court of Queen's Bench trial, a jury was told that Brass and Meilleur went to Fontaine's home with a third man, Malcolm Miles Mitchell, to collect a drug debt from the victim's boyfriend.
But when they found the boyfriend, Monte Bull, wasn't there, the men decided to rob Fontaine instead, Crown prosecutors alleged.
The jury was told during the course of the trial that Mitchell was the shooter.
At issue in Brass and Meilleur's trial is whether they went to the home with Mitchell to commit a robbery, and knew — or ought to have known — that could lead to serious harm for the victim, the jury was told Wednesday.
Crown prosecutor Michael Desautels said that testimony from the victim's brother, Vincent "Chuck" Fontaine, proved Brass and Meilleur had that intent.
Vincent told the jury that he saw the men come into the home where he lived with Jeanenne with a gun and a knife, and that Brass was standing watch by the door.
Desautels also pointed to testimony from Bull, who said that he owed Meilleur's girlfriend money.
As well, there were inconsistences in Meilleur's statement to police, the Crown prosecutor said. At one point, Meilleur said he was outside the house when Fontaine was shot, but at another, he said he was inside.
Robbery evidence circumstantial: defence
But defence lawyers argued that the Crown's evidence was circumstantial, and that they had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brass and Meilleur went to the house with Mitchell to rob Fontaine.
Meilleur's lawyer, Theodore Mariash, pointed out that Vincent Fontaine testified that one of the men took his phone, and then gave it back to him.
"Why would someone with the intent to steal property return the phone to his victim?" Mariash asked. "Smartphones are valuable property."
He also noted that Vincent said he was on the couch while the three men went through the house, looking for Bull.
Given Vincent's long criminal record, Mariash argued that he would have known if he was being robbed, and wouldn't have been passively sitting in his living room in that situation.
Brass's lawyer, Tara Walker, later said that Vincent Fontaine testified he didn't hear the three men demand property or money.
The jury is set to be charged Thursday, after which they will deliberate their verdict.
The trial, before Justice Gerald Chartier, began on Jan. 7.