Women testify duvet found with Tina Fontaine belonged to Raymond Cormier
Say Cormier lived in their backyard the summer that Fontaine, 15, was killed
A woman who knew Raymond Cormier said when police showed her a photo of the duvet that was wrapped around Tina Fontaine's body it sent shivers up her spine.
"It still does," Ida Beardy, 50, told the Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg on Thursday.
Beardy testified that Cormier was living in a tent in her backyard for a few months in the summer of 2014. Inside that tent, Beardy told court, she had seen the duvet.
Cormier, 55, is on trial for the 2014 killing of 15-year-old Fontaine. Earlier in the trial, which began Monday, court heard that Fontaine was found wrapped in a duvet filled with rocks weighing 25.5 pounds.
Cormier has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the death of Fontaine, whose body was found on Aug. 17, 2014, near the riverbank north of the Alexander Docks. The trial is being heard by a jury of eight women and four men before Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal in Winnipeg.
Fontaine's death sparked community-level movements aimed at solving missing persons cases, including the Bear Clan Patrol citizen group, and ignited calls across the country for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
On Thursday, the fourth day in what's expected to be a five-week-long trial, court heard that Beardy met Cormier through her daughter. Cormier would go to a coffee shop where her daughter was working.
But when Beardy met Cormier she was told his name was "Frenchy."
When asked to point out Frenchy in the courtroom she looked at Cormier and said "that sick bastard over there."
Beardy said Cormier was homeless and so she offered for him to stay in a tent in the backyard of her Alexander Avenue home. She told court Cormier had different kinds of blankets in the tent, but remembered the duvet and the patterns on it.
During cross examination defence attorney Anthony Kavanagh asked her about information she told police about Cormier's belongings and questioned her answers. Justice Joyal stopped the questioning multiple times and told Beardy to answer directly and not talk about Cormier's character.
When Kavanagh suggested Beardy was confused about the blanket and trying to help police solve the high-profile case she responded, "I'm here to tell the truth."
Her daughter Chantelle, 19, also testified in court that she remembered the duvet being in Cormier's belongings but said she thought her mother gave it to him. She was 15 years old when Cormier started living in the backyard and she said she knew he was homeless and did drugs.
Cormier eventually left the backyard after he got angry and broke the Beardys' fire pit, both women testified.
During cross-examination defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn asked Chantelle Beardy whether she was certain that Cormier, or Frenchy as she knew him, moved into the tent on Aug. 1, 2014, and she said she was because it was her brother's birthday.
But when presented with a transcript from an interview with police in 2015, Chantelle Beardy responded that she must have got the dates mixed up.
Synyshyn said if she could mix up the dates, could she be certain she was also correct about the duvet.
"I get dates mixed up but I'm sure about the blankets," she said.
Chantelle Beardy leaned far back in the witness box and told court she didn't want to see Cormier's face because it "creeps me the f--k out."
She also testified that she had met Tina Fontaine three times, including one time outside the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg.
List of 800 who bought Costco duvet
Earlier on Thursday, Winnipeg police Det. Sgt. Esther Schmieder told court that homicide detectives were pointed to the Beardys' Alexander Avenue home by Fontaine's boyfriend. Schmieder said detectives had asked him to take them to places Fontaine may have visited.
Schmieder also testified the tag on the duvet found with Fontaine was a brand only sold in Winnipeg at the city's three Costco locations. Schmieder told court that homicide detectives got a list from the stores of more than 800 people who had bought the duvet in the city.
Police canvassed Winnipeg for the people on the list, trying to find a connection with Fontaine.
During cross-examination, defence attorney Anthony Kavanagh pointed to the list and said a fair number of people told police they'd donated the duvet they bought or didn't know where it was. Schmieder told the court she couldn't remember how many people that included.
Court also heard from Douglas Orr, an expert in trace evidence and textiles with the RCMP. Orr was tasked with trying to compare fibres that were found on the duvet Fontaine was wrapped in and fibres from blankets that had been seized from a home on Carmen Avenue, near Glenwood Crescent, in October 2014. Police seized property they were told belonged to Cormier, court previously heard, including the "Mexican-style" blankets.
Orr testified the blankets were actually made of multiple kinds of fabrics which were recycled and dyed, so he couldn't match the fibres to the duvet.
Dr. Amarjit Chahal was the first witness called when the trial resumed on Thursday morning. He's a mitochondrial DNA expert from Thunder Bay, Ont.
Chahal told court Winnipeg police sent him 35 DNA samples from the duvet cover, and from a Ford F-150 truck the Crown says Fontaine had reported stolen in a 911 call.
The samples had already been tested for nuclear DNA by RCMP, but Chahal was asked to do mitochondrial DNA testing. He said there are more copies of mitochondria than nuclei, so scientists conduct mitochondrial testing if they can't get a clear nuclear profile.
Chahal was asked to compare the samples to DNA from Tina Fontaine, Raymond Cormier and a number of other people whose profiles were provided by police.
Hairs didn't match Cormier's profile: DNA expert
Cormier's DNA was tested against 17 hair samples taken from the duvet cover and two items from the truck. His DNA was not found on the items.
Crown attorney Jim Ross said court will hear testimony later that the truck had been cleaned. Chahal said DNA can sometimes survive even if an item is cleaned, but it may be compromised.
Chahal also told court Fontaine's DNA was not a match with the samples found in the truck, and the teen was not the source of 14 of the hairs found on the duvet. The hairs didn't come from any of the profiles provided by police, including Cormier's, Chahal testified.
He said a man named Tyrell Morrison could not be excluded as a person who contributed to a mixed mitochondrial DNA sample found in the truck bed. It was mixed with at least one other person's DNA, but not Fontaine's.
During cross-examination by defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn, Chahal said DNA can be transferred to objects through means including coughing, sneezing and sweating.
On Wednesday, Winnipeg Police Service identification officer Const. Susan Roy-Haegeman had also testified there is no scientific forensic evidence linking Cormier to Fontaine. Earlier that day, a pathologist told court that a cause of death could not be determined due to the state of Fontaine's body when it was found.
With files from Caroline Barghout