Manitoba

'This is so surreal': Family prepares for verdict after closing arguments at Candace Derksen retrial

Closing arguments from the Crown began Friday in the retrial for Mark Grant, the man accused of killing Candace Derksen in 1984.

Wilma Derksen says her family has 'learned how to wait and to live with whatever'

Grant retrial closing arguments end 2:19

Candace Derksen's family say they are preparing for any outcome now that closing arguments have wrapped up in the retrial for Mark Grant, the man accused of killing the 13-year-old in 1984.

"We've learned how to wait and to live with whatever," said Wilma Derksen, Candace's mother. 

Candace disappeared while walking to her Elmwood home in Winnipeg in November 1984. After months of exhaustive searching, she was found dead of exposure and hypothermia the following January, tied up and left in a shed.
Mark Edward Grant (left). Candace Derksen (right). (CBC)

Candace's case went cold for more than two decades until 2007, when Grant was arrested after forensic evidence linked him to the case. A jury found Grant guilty of second-degree murder in 2011 and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

He regained the presumption of innocence in a 2013 appeal, after his defence team argued possible evidence of a different killer was improperly excluded from the first trial. 

"We process it as a family. My children always say this is so surreal. Can you imagine [32] years later we are still ... in the courtroom with Candace's presence. She is still part of our family and that's always a gift," Wilma Derksen said. 

Wilma Derksen says her family is preparing for any outcome and they hope it will help bring closure. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Cliff Derksen, Candace's father, said it will be disappointing if the judge delivers a "not guilty" verdict. 

"It would be disappointing. It's hard to know. I mean, if he didn't do it, who did it? And we'd have to go through another cycle or there might be nothing. I don't know," he said.

"The other side is the justice system itself. Can they find the truth and how can they do that? We've had two shots at it now and you would hope that they could do it ... We have no control."

Cliff Derksen says he would be disappointed by a 'not guilty' verdict. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The loss of their daughter, and the ensuing decades of searching for answers and going through courts, have taken a toll. But Wilma Derksen said whatever the outcome, she hopes it will bring her family closure. 

"I think we know how to say, 'OK, we have to put this on the shelf.' We have to live very, very fiercely because life is really important," she said. 

"We know what death does. It changes things dramatically." 

After a day of arguments from defence lawyer Saul Simmonds, Crown attorney Brent Davidson began his closing arguments Friday morning at the judge-only trial.

Davidson argued Grant showed his intent to kill Derksen in the manner in which she was left bound with twine in a shed, unable to flee.

He said "blunt force trauma to the knees" was observed on Candace's body. "She had no way to escape."

Grant was not in custody at the time of the girl's disappearance and would have had the opportunity to kidnap her, the Crown said.

The Crown said a witness heard during the retrial had no reason to lie about hearing Mark Grant say he killed Candace.

She overheard Grant say "I killed her," and then a couple of second later heard him say, "No, I didn't. I'm just kidding," Davidson said.

He asked that the judge remember the witness said Grant threatened to "do what I did to Candace" to her unless she kept quiet.

On Thursday, Simmonds questioned the reliability of the Crown's witness and took shots at DNA evidence used to arrest his client and convict him in his first trial.

The evidence — collected from twine used to bind Derksen's limbs — was gathered in 1985 before modern DNA protocols were developed. Simmonds argued it may have been contaminated.

He also said the testing process was flawed and evidence that may have exonerated his client was ignored.

The Crown said Friday while some of the defence's arguments may reduce the weight of evidence, it does not amount to reasonable doubt.

Grant has a long criminal history and is a convicted sexual predator. Parole documents from the 1980s and 1990s raise consistent concerns about Grant's sexual desire for young, vulnerable women.

Justice Karen Simonsen is expected to take some time to deliver a decision after closing arguments due to the complexity of the case.

Community support

The Derksens said they have been moved by the support they've received in the community throughout the process.

Cliff Derksen held a heart-shaped candy tray outside court on Friday. It was handed to him by a man who was also 13 years old the year Candace went missing.

"He made this, a candy dish, because he felt for us and is expressing support for us. That's awesome," Cliff Derksen said.  

Wilma Derksen added that throughout the years, many people have approached them to express how the case has impacted their own lives. 

"Winnipeg is wonderful in that they are very supportive and friendly, and that keeps us going," she said.

Cliff Derksen holds a heart-shaped candy dish that a man gave him at court on Friday to show support for the family. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

with files from Laura Glowacki, Nelly Gonzalez and Jill Coubrough