2 women guilty of strangling man to death, setting fire in apartment, jury finds

A jury has convicted two Winnipeg women of second-degree murder in the July 2014 strangulation death of 53-year-old Arthur Haussermann.

2 female accused lashed out at each other in Winnipeg courtroom following conviction

Arthur Haussermann, 53, was strangled to death inside his Hargrave Street apartment in July 2014. Raven Desjarlais, 30, and Clarissa Ponace, 32, have been convicted of second-degree murder and arson. (CBC)

A jury has convicted two Winnipeg women of second-degree murder in the July 2014 strangulation death of 53-year-old Arthur Haussermann.

Raven Desjarlais, 30, and Clarissa Ponace, 32, were also found guilty of arson. 

Jurors began deliberating early Wednesday afternoon and reached their verdicts late Thursday morning.

Minutes after the verdict, the two now convicted killers lashed out at each other in the prisoner's box, prompting a rush of several sheriff's officers to the courtroom. Officers ushered a still struggling Ponace out of the room, followed by Desjarlais.

Court heard at trial Haussermann and the two women had been drinking at a nearby bar, and returned to Haussermann's Hargrave Street apartment shortly before 2 a.m. 

A condom found in the apartment containing both Ponace's and Haussermann's DNA indicated the two had sex sometime after their arrival, prosecutors said. Sometime later, Desjarlais, asleep on a couch, awoke to find a naked Haussermann stroking her leg.

Prosecutors alleged Desjarlais, alone or with Ponace's help, assaulted Haussermann and then strangled him with an electrical cord. After he was dead, he was stabbed twice.

"Did Raven Desjarlais have a right to feel angry when she woke up to the deceased rubbing her leg? Absolutely," Crown attorney Mike Himmelman said in a closing address to jurors Monday.

"You may find this behaviour creepy, you may even find him reprehensible, but does that justify what happened to Arthur Haussermann?"

Admitted to manslaughter, argued intoxication

Desjarlais admitted to manslaughter in Haussermann's death but argued she was too intoxicated by pills and alcohol to form the intention to kill.

Himmelmann said security video at the bar and at Haussermann's apartment block contradicted Desjarlais' claim of extreme intoxication.

"Think about the dexterity, the strength, the determination it would take to do that to someone," Himmelman said. "Does that evidence not point to someone who appreciated, or at least knew, what they were doing?"

A pathologist testified it would have taken four to six minutes to strangle Haussermann.

Fires were set in a bedroom and the kitchen before the two accused fled the apartment, jurors heard. Ponace's fingerprints were found on a bottle of Javex that was poured over Haussermann's body and bed, showing she had a hand in trying to to cover up the killing or ensuring Haussermann was dead, Himmelmann said.

Desjarlais's lawyer argued her client had a past history of sexual abuse and "lost control" when she awoke to Haussermann touching her.

Desjarlais and Ponace will return to court for sentencing in January, following the completion of court-ordered pre-sentence reports.

The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.

About the Author

Dean Pritchard

Court reporter

A reporter for over 20 years, CBC Manitoba's Dean Pritchard has covered the court beat since 1999, both in the Brandon region and Winnipeg. He can be contacted at dean.pritchard@cbc.ca.