Family of teen with autism looking for closure after Crown stays manslaughter charge against foster mother

The family of an 18-year-old Manitoba woman with autism who died in care says they've been left without closure after a manslaughter charge against the woman's foster mother were stayed last week.

Charge against Lisa Campbell in connection with Lydia Whitford's 2016 death was stayed last week

Jessica Whitford holds a picture of her sister, Lydia, who died in 2016. 'I want people to remember her as the kind and loving person she was,' Jessica says, after charges against the woman accused in Lydia's death were stayed. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The family of an 18-year-old Manitoba woman with autism who died in care says they've been left without closure, after a manslaughter charge against the woman's foster mother was stayed last week.

Lisa Marie Campbell was charged last December, more than a year after Lydia Whitford's July 2016 death in the rural municipality of Springfield.

The Crown stayed the charge on May 3, citing a lack of medical evidence.

"It's not fair and it's not right," Lydia Whitford's older sister, Jessica Whitford, told CBC News on Wednesday. "I'm tired of always wondering.… We need some type of closure.

"My sister deserves that."

Whitford, who had autism and epilepsy and was non-verbal, lived with Campbell at the Springfield residence where she was found dead, according to family. 

Lisa Campbell, standing, is seen with Lydia Whitford in this family photo. A manslaughter charge against Campbell in connection with Whitford's death was stayed last week. (Submitted by Jessica Whitford)

Whitford had been in care for 10 years and was in the care of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services at the time of her death. Family said Campbell was Whitford's special needs worker for three years before becoming her foster parent.

Whitford's death wasn't initially ruled suspicious but RCMP said in December 2016 they were investigating it as a homicide. Campbell was arrested in December 2017.

Whitford's biological family told CBC News they became suspicious about the nature of her death because of extensive bruising they noticed along her collarbone and arms.

Jessica Whitford says the Crown met with her family before the charges were stayed. Prosecutors didn't say much about what comes next, Jessica said, but she's hopeful she'll get more information when she meets with them again next week.

She says she's been trying to look into the case herself because "nobody else is doing anything."

She's requested the results of Lydia's autopsy and has been trying to track down her sister's medical files, but says she's been told CFS no longer has the records.

"I'm trying to get all this together to see what I can do about this," she said.

In December 2016, the head of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services said it had formally requested the matter be investigated by Manitoba's Office of the Children's Advocate. The office told CBC at that point that it would investigate once the RCMP investigation has concluded.

Jessica says she and her sister were very close growing up and vowed to continue seeking justice on her behalf.

 "She was my only biological sister.… I did everything with her," she said.

"I want people to remember her as the kind and loving person she was."