Manitoba

2 men charged with manslaughter in death of Jeanenne Fontaine were trying to collect drug debt, court hears

Two men accused of killing a 29-year-old mother of three in 2017 were trying to collect a drug debt from her boyfriend, Crown prosecutors argued before a Winnipeg court Monday.

Fontaine, a cousin of Tina Fontaine, died in March 2017 after she was shot, house was set on fire

Jeanenne Fontaine was 29 years old when she was killed March 15, 2017. (ObitTree)

Two men accused of killing a 29-year-old mother of three in 2017 were trying to collect a drug debt from her boyfriend, Crown prosecutors argued before a Winnipeg court Monday.

Christopher Brass and Jason Meilleur are charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of Jeanenne Fontaine, who was the cousin of Tina Fontaine. Their trial began Monday in Court of Queen's Bench. Both have pleaded not guilty. 

On March 14, 2017, Jeanenne Fontaine was shot in the back of the head inside her home on Aberdeen Avenue near Salter Street. The house was then set on fire.

In the opening statement for the Crown, prosecutor Geoffrey Bayly said they intend to prove that Brass and Meilleur went to Fontaine's home that day with a third man, Malcolm Miles Mitchell, to try to collect a drug debt owed by her boyfriend.

They thought the boyfriend would be at the home, but when he wasn't the trio tried to rob Fontaine, Bayly told the court.

During the course of the robbery, Fontaine was shot, Bayly said, and "chaos ensued" inside the home.

Fire was set intentionally, arson investigator testifies 

Kevin Luptick, who was one of the first firefighters on the scene, testified that the victim was unresponsive when firefighters pulled her from the house. He said she had burns on her stomach and arms. 

Paramedics rushed Fontaine to hospital, but she died the next day after being taken off life support.

During the afternoon, the jury was shown several photos of the burned and blackened home where Fontaine was found that was littered with debris from the fire. 

Sandra Peterson, an arson investigator, said at least three sources of fire were found in the home over the course of her investigation.

She told the court she believes fires were set intentionally in the northeast corner and southwest corner of the dining room and on the stovetop in the kitchen.

Fontaine's house on Aberdeen Avenue was set on fire after she was shot in March 2017. (Travis Golby/CBC)

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Theodore Mariash asked Peterson whether it was possible that the fires were set by one person.

"I don't have a clue," she told the court. 

Earlier in the day, Bayly told the court the Crown intends to prove Fontaine's brother, Vincent, was at the home at the time, and has said he saw one of the three men place paper on top of the stovetop. 

Victim's death followed series of tragedies in her family 

Mitchell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month and was sentenced to life in prison, with parole eligibility after 10 years.

"She was a lively, beautiful Native girl," Jeanenne Fontaine's aunt Rhonda Flett told CBC News at the time of her death. "Everybody wanted to be around her. She was kind. She liked to laugh. She made us laugh."

Members of Fontaine's family were in court Monday, sitting in the back row wearing purple and pink ribbons pinned to their chest. Fontaine's mother sat hunched over her cane, silently sobbing as the jury was shown photos of the home. 

Fontaine's death followed a series of tragedies that had befallen her family over the years. Flett said Jeanenne moved into the Aberdeen house following the death of her cousin, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, in 2014. Jeanenne's mother and Tina's mother are sisters.

In 2011, Tina's father, Eugene Fontaine, was beaten to death in Sagkeeng First Nation.

The death of Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg in 2014, spurred calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Brass and Meilleur's jury trial before Justice Gerald Chartier is expected to last three weeks.

Bayly said the Crown expects to call the victim's brother and boyfriend and one of the accused's girlfriends as witnesses.

Meilleur is being represented by defence lawyers Mariash and Trang Ly, while Brass's defence counsel is Tara Walker and Mitch Mraovic. Bayly and prosecutor Michael Desautels are representing the Crown. 
Cousins of Jeanenne Fontaine held each other close Monday in court as photographs of the crime scene where she died were shown on the first day of a trial of two men accused in her death. 1:14

Corrections

  • A previous version misidentified one of the witnesses who is expected to testify during the trial. The person's name is under a publication ban.
    Jan 10, 2019 10:56 AM CT