Manitoba

'There was justice today,' Christine Wood's father says as Brett Overby found guilty of 2nd-degree murder

Brett Overby has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Christine Wood.

Jury began deliberations shortly before noon Wednesday

Brett Overby admitted he was responsible for killing Christine Wood but his lawyer argued it was manslaughter, not second-degree murder. (Instagram)

A Winnipeg jury has found Brett Overby guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Christine Wood.

Melinda Wood, the 21-year-old's mother, cried as the verdict was announced shortly before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday — just over two hours after the jury began deliberations.

Outside the courthouse, Wood's family expressed relief.

"It's a wonderful day today for my family. Our daughter Christine got justice today. That's all we were hoping for," said George Wood, her father.

"It's not fair what happened to her but I am very grateful there was justice today."

Overby, 32, was charged with the crime in April 2017.

George Wood, the father of Christine Wood, reads a statement outside the Winnipeg court where Overby was found guilty Wednesday of murdering his daughter. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Wood, who was from Oxford House, was last seen by her parents in Winnipeg on Aug. 19, 2016. She met Overby that evening on the online dating website Plenty of Fish.

During his trial, which began April 30, Overby admitted to killing Wood in his basement on Burrows Avenue and burying her body in a farmer's field. Wood's remains weren't found until June 2017, almost two months after Overby was charged.

He told the jury he covered up the crime and lied to everyone, including police, about his connection to Wood and the circumstances around her death.

But the defence argued that Wood, who had been drinking with Overby on the night of Aug. 19, became aggressive and attacked him with a knife, at which point he blacked out, he said. When he came to, she was lying in a pool of blood, Overby testified.

The defence argued that under those circumstances, he should be found guilty of manslaughter rather than second-degree murder.

Christine Wood took a selfie using her mother's phone on the last day they saw her, Aug. 19, 2016. (Melinda Wood)

The jury of nine men and three women, which began deliberating shortly before noon on Wednesday, rejected that argument.

The second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence with no parole eligibility for 10 to 25 years. Jury members recommended sentences of parole ineligibility between 10 and 23 years.

That decision will ultimately be made by Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin, who heard the trial.

Martin approved a request for a Gladue report prior to sentencing made by Overby, who says he's of Indigenous ancestry.

Gladue reports provide the court with background on Indigenous offenders' personal histories to consider in sentencing — including substance abuse, poverty, victimization and experience in residential schools or the child welfare system — and may also suggest alternatives to jail.

'A huge sense of relief'

George Wood thanked provincial Crown attorneys and the Winnipeg Police Service for their work, and also expressed gratitude for the support his family received from friends and neighbours in Bunibonibee Cree Nation (also known as Oxford House) and in Winnipeg.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, manager of the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls liaison unit for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said "a form of justice" has been granted to Wood's family.

"They'll never have Christine back, but at least they can have some form of closure, knowing justice has been served," said.

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, manager of the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls liaison unit for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, says the verdict provided Christine's family with a sense of relief. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Anderson-Pyrz, who accompanied Wood's family during the trial, said they were very concerned Overby might be convicted of manslaughter instead of second-degree murder.

"When the jury came back and shared what the verdict was, there was a huge sense of relief," she said.

Sheila North, a relative of the Wood family, said she also felt relief, both about the verdict and about Overby's testimony, in which he admitted to the killing.

"It was a little bit enlightening to see the mindset of someone that did this to a young, innocent Indigenous woman," she said.

North pointed out that Overby had many advantages and opportunities in his life, including owning a vehicle, a home and having a job.

"The fact that he had all of these opportunities in life given to him … and yet he did this and reacted this way to an Indigenous woman, I think it's a concern for all of us as a country to realize that this is happening still today."

After the verdict, North joined Christine's parents and other family members Wednesday evening at the spot where her body was found in 2017. Standing on the edge of a farm field in the rural municipality of Springfield, 34 kilometres east of Winnipeg, they gathered in a circle, held hands and joined in prayers and song.

Overby's sentencing date is set for July 2. Christine Wood's family will have the opportunity to read victim impact statements at that sentencing hearing.

The Crown expects hearing the statements will take a full day.

Christine Wood's killer has been convicted of second degree murder. Brett Overby will be sentenced to life, with no chance of parole for ten years. 2:00

With files from Camille Gris Roy