'No stone unturned' in investigating Tina Fontaine's death, detective testifies at Raymond Cormier's trial
Cormier is accused of killing 15-year-old whose body was found in Winnipeg's Red River in 2014
Two Winnipeg detectives tasked with investigating the death of Tina Fontaine say the case involved significant resources, dozens of interviews and a "huge" canvassing effort aimed at linking the man accused of killing her to a duvet cover used to wrap and dispose of her body.
Det. Sgt. Jeff Stalker and Det.-Sgt. Myles Riddell were called to testify by Crown attorneys James Ross and Breta Passler on the fifth day of what is scheduled to be a five-week-long trial for Raymond Cormier, who is accused of second-degree murder in connection with Tina Fontaine's death.
Cormier, 55, has pleaded not guilty. Earlier this week the Crown said there is no DNA or forensic evidence linking Cormier to Fontaine's death. The case is being heard by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and a jury of eight women and four men.
The detectives who testified Friday were tasked with investigating the death of the 15-year-old, who was found near the shores of the Red River north of Winnipeg's Alexander Docks on Aug. 17, 2014, wrapped in a duvet cover that was weighed down by 11.5 kilograms of rocks.
Under questioning by defence lawyer Tony Kavanagh, Stalker agreed that the level of resources committed to the investigation has been significant, including what he called a "huge" canvassing effort to track down the owner of the duvet cover.
Stalker testified he was part of a six-team investigation assigned to the case under Sgt. John O'Donovan, who was personally involved in interviewing 40 to 60 people.
"That's way above the normal for any investigation I've ever been involved in," said Stalker, who said he has worked on 120 homicide cases in 21 years with the Winnipeg Police Service.
"We left no stone unturned and chased down every lead."
Women knew Cormier as 'Frenchie'
The case spurred several local community groups aimed at preventing similar deaths and solving cold cases. It also fuelled calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Court heard Friday that Stalker went to a halfway house for discharged inmates on Main Street on Aug. 20, 2014, to follow up on a 911 call made at a nearby payphone on Aug. 6.
On Monday, jurors heard that call played in court, which caused Thelma Fontaine, Tina's great-aunt, to break down in tears as she confirmed the voice on the recording was that of her great-niece.
The caller was heard reporting the theft of a blue truck, which she said was stolen that day by her friend Sebastian — a name the Crown argues is one of Cormier's aliases.
Stalker said he spoke with a man at the halfway house he went to on Aug. 20 who claimed to know someone named Sebastian.
Investigators were then pointed to a property on Alexander Avenue where a man alleged to be a friend of Tina's was living in a tent.
Stalker and others interviewed Ida Beardy, 50, and her daughter Chantelle, 19, several times over the next few months. The women testified Thursday that Cormier stayed in a tent in the backyard of their two-storey Alexander home in the summer of 2014.
The pair knew Cormier as "Frenchie" and suggested Stalker check out a scrapyard on Main Street where they believed staff might have more information. After speaking with employees there, Stalker was able to get a photo of Raymond Cormier and showed it to Ida Beardy.
"That's Frenchie," Stalker said Ida Beardy told him, reading from his notes taken during an interview with her at the time.
'Immediate recognition of the duvet'
Kavanagh questioned whether Beardy learned, during her first interview with detectives on Aug. 20, that Stalker was investigating Tina's death. Stalker agreed she did but said he did not discuss any of the details of the case or mention Cormier was a suspect.
Ida Beardy later gave police permission to seize the tent from her backyard.
Stalker also told court that an inmate from Milner Ridge Correctional Facility northeast of Winnipeg named Ernie DeWolfe contacted police on Oct. 1, saying he had information about Cormier.
DeWolfe — who said he offered to help for nothing in return — Chantelle Beardy and Ida Beardy all identified Cormier in police lineup pictures, Stalker said.
All three also told police that Cormier had a duvet cover with similar patterns as the one police say Fontaine's body was wrapped in.
'It blew me away'
Police previously testified the duvet cover was only sold at Costco, and that homicide detectives were able to confirm more than 800 were purchased at the three Winnipeg store locations. About 100 people who had purchased the "Chloe Green" leaf pattern cover in question co-operated with investigators, court heard, while many others told police they had since gotten rid of or donated theirs.
Stalker said when he showed Ida and Chantelle Beardy a picture of a similar leaf-pattern duvet sold at Costco, he saw "their eyes light up."
"It was an immediate recognition of the duvet," he said, recalling Ida's reaction.
"It blew me away — it was immediate and it was expressive, and it was 'that's Frenchie's blanket.'"
Stalker showed them the photo at different times in their home on Alexander, while Det. Sgt. Myles Riddel ensured privacy and that each was were in separate rooms before they were asked for their impressions.
"Chantelle was also very confident in confirming the photo that was shown to her was a blanket that belonged to Raymond Cormier," Riddell told court.
Defence questions accounts
The defence questioned whether the Beardys' accounts were valid, since Stalker admitted the mother and daughter already knew the detectives were working on the Fontaine case.
The detectives testified DeWolfe had a similarly specific recollection of seeing a leaf-pattern duvet cover when police showed him photos at the Winnipeg Public Safety Building in December.
"I remember a blanket with a fall green and brown leaves," Riddell said, reading out notes he took of DeWolfe's answer. When investigators then showed DeWolfe a photo of an identical duvet cover, Riddell's notes indicate DeWolfe said, "that looks like Ray's blanket, I can't say 100 per cent that's the one, but it looks like it."
Cormier's drug dealer testifies
Glen McDonald, 50, was one of five people to testify Friday.
McDonald, who renovated homes for a living, met Cormier in March 2014. That's when he says he started selling Cormier crystal meth, occasionally accepting tools instead of cash in exchange for drugs.
That summer the pair saw each other "almost every day," McDonald told court, including once near the end of July and once early in August when he visited Cormier at a home on Carmen Avenue to sell him drugs.
In the first case, McDonald said Cormier was with a woman. McDonald claimed the second time he went to the house, Cormier was with the same woman and an girl he assumed was the woman's daughter. He didn't get their names, or the last name of a man named "Ernie" who he said was also there.
Discrepancy in accounts
The defence called McDonald's account into question, however, referring to a 2016 sworn statement he provided police where he never mentioned the woman and girl at that second meeting.
"You told police in your statement the second time it was just Ernie and Cormier … is that true?" defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn asked during cross-examination.
"Yeah," McDonald replied.
McDonald also testified there was a four-door, light-coloured truck parked at the home that evening in early August that he learned was stolen, though because it was nighttime he couldn't clearly tell it's colour.
Cormier later drove it to McDonald's home on Manitoba Avenue to drop off a generator, drill, power tools and a red tool box, McDonald said. There, McDonald said his roommate and Cormier spoke about how to sell or get rid of the truck.
McDonald said he never saw the truck again and that Cormier continued to buy drugs off him.
On Monday, Winnipeg police crime analyst David Bowman told court there were 12 vehicles stolen on Aug. 6, 2014. Two were trucks; one was a black GMC Sierra; and the other was a blue Ford F150.
'Well-washed' stolen truck
Witness Donald Schneider told court Friday his blue Ford F150 was stolen on Aug. 6 2014, and it contained a red tool box along with a number of yard and power tools.
He was doing landscaping work for a homeowner on Rue Masson at the time. Schneider said he often left the keys in the truck, as in this case, because he preferred to use a code pad on the outside of the vehicle to unlock it. He said he left the truck unlocked, went back to work and the truck was gone five-to-10 minutes later.
It didn't turned up until Sept. 17, 2014, when Winnipeg police Const. Matthew Gowryluk was directed to go check out a report of a man with a bloody hand somewhere in the area of Portage Avenue and Rouge Road.
Gowryluk located Schneider's Ford truck — though it now had a plate registered to a GMC Sonoma on it. The truck had a smashed driver-side window and other damage where it was found on Rouge Road.
"I noticed there was blood on some of the glass shards," he told court, adding he located the real plate number of the truck during a search of the vehicle. When he ran it a notice came up in the system telling him to contact the homicide unit.
Schneider saw his truck again in an Manitoba Public Insurance compound lot. He said it didn't look the same; the mirrors were busted; there were circle patterns on the seats; and the truck had been "well washed."
The trial resumes Monday.
With files from Caroline Barghout