Outbursts disrupt packed courtroom at Cormier trial as Crown and defence wrap cases

Sobbing broke out in the packed courtroom at the murder trial of Raymond Cormier as Crown prosecutor Jim Ross delivered his closing arguments, laying out the case against the man charged with killing Tina Fontaine.

Judge briefly removes jury from court as trial in death of Tina Fontaine draws to close

Tina Fontaine, 15, was found dead in the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014. (Winnipeg Police Service)

Sobbing broke out in the packed courtroom at the murder trial of Raymond Cormier as Crown prosecutor Jim Ross delivered his closing arguments, laying out the case against the man charged with killing Tina Fontaine in 2014.

Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the number of people in the audience.

As Ross read statements by Cormier about his sexual attraction to the 15-year-old girl in police interviews and undercover recordings, several people let out sobs and cries of "Oh my God."

This is a true  whodunnit .— Crown prosecutor Jim Ross

Tina's birth mother, Valentina Duck, stuck up her middle finger at Cormier and shouted: "F--king sick bastard!"

This prompted Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal to briefly clear the jury out of the courtroom until calm was restored.

When the jury was brought back in, Duck had left and Joyal told the jury to disregard anything said or done by members of the audience.

Cormier, 56, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the teenager from Sagkeeng First Nation.

Her 72-pound body was found near the Alexander Docks on the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014, wrapped inside a duvet cover and weighted down with rocks.

Cormier's trial is being heard by a jury of seven women and four men. A 12th juror was dismissed partway through the trial due to a family emergency.

Ross began his closing remarks by saying the central question of the case had to do with who caused Tina's death.

"This is a true whodunnit," Ross said. "The answer, ladies and gentlemen, was given to you by Mr. Cormier. His own words identified himself as the killer of Tina Fontaine. For what man admits to murder but that he did murder?"

'House of cards'

There were more tears as Cormier's defence lawyer, Tony Kavanagh, made his closing remarks. He challenged the Crown's case, calling it a "house of cards" built on inferences made from secret recordings that are difficult to hear, and testimony from witnesses who, he argued, are neither reliable or credible.

"It's a house of cards, and the reason it falls about is because Mr. Cormier did not kill Ms. Fontaine," Kavanagh said.

Ross said there are two likely causes of death: smothering or drowning. A pathologist who examined the body told the court that a cause of death couldn't be determined, but that drowning or smothering couldn't be ruled out.

Kavanagh argued that there is no way to know that Fontaine died by an unlawful act, and that other possible causes such as self-smothering due to intoxication or an overdose as a result of taking the epilepsy medication gabapentin are "equally likely." 

Kavanagh also argued that the Crown's assertion that Tina died by an unlawful act is inferred from the way that her body was found, but that doesn't amount to proof. On that alone, Kavanagh argued the jury should acquit Cormier.

'Haunted by something'

But Ross told the jury members to disregard Cormier's repeated denials that he killed Tina, and focus on statements he made about the killing where, Ross argues, Cormier let his guard down.

"You ever been haunted by something? What happened there really f--king it's not right. F--k. It's right on the shore. So what do I do? Threw her in," Cormier says to a woman in one of the recorded conversations.

"I did Tina, f--king supposed to be legal and only 15. [Inaudible]. No going back, too. The cops said if there would have been DNA and then probably they would've had enough evidence to charge, you know that, for the murder of Tina Fontaine."

The context in which those statements were made, however, raises doubt about whether Cormier meant what the Crown says he meant, Kavanagh argued. Before Cormier says "What do I do? Threw her in?", he says to the woman "I know I'm really moving into the realm of f--king psychiatry, psychology."

"He's musing on being in the shoes of the killer," Kavanagh said. 

He also argued that the Crown's interpretation doesn't match up with the rest of the conversation, in which Cormier tells the woman he never murdered anyone. 

"It's unfair to use this as an admission," Kavanagh said.

'Jump off a bridge'

Ross also told the jury to consider Cormier's stated desire not to be known as a pedophile, and his admitted attraction to Tina. Ross mentioned that Cormier told multiple people that he had sex with Tina before finding out her age.

Kavanagh challenged that assertion, pointing to the fact that the on Aug. 6, Cormier and Tina had an argument after their friend, Sarah Holland, told Cormier that Tina was only 15 years old. Witnesses told the court Cormier had been making sexual advances after Tina came to the house upset that her boyfriend had left.

This is the guilt that is eating at him.— Defence lawyer Tony Kavanagh

"That evidence indicates that this was the first attempt to sleep with Ms. Fontaine. It's not evidence that this happened before," Kavanagh said.

After the fight, Cormier told police his last words to Tina were to go "jump off a bridge," and his statements should be interpreted as the words of someone who feels guilty that he didn't do more to stop her walking away that night.

"This is the regret, this is the guilt that is eating at him," Kavanagh said.

Ross also pointed to circumstantial evidence, including Cormier's attempt to run from police when they arrested him for Tina's murder on Oct. 1, 2014; his attempts to conceal the fact he was in possession of a stolen truck around the time of her disappearance, which the Crown argues provided the means for Cormier to dispose of her body; and witnesses who said they saw Cormier with the duvet cover found with Tina's body.

Kavanagh said the way police got the witnesses to confirm his possession of the duvet cover — by showing them a single picture of the cover they found with Tina's body, instead of multiple pictures of different duvet covers — tainted the evidence. 

"It was a fundamental mistake."

He also called into question the testimony of the witnesses, who he said displayed "animus" toward Cormier, and whose recollections could be called into question due to possible drug use or inconsistencies in their statements. 

Argument over bicycle

On Aug. 8, 2014 — the day she left the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel and never returned — Tina told a CFS worker that her friend "Sebastian" was going to get her a bike. Cormier told police that is the name he identified himself by with Tina when they met.

Two days earlier, the two of them got into an argument at a house on 22 Carmen Ave. when Cormier sold Tina's bike for drugs, and Tina threatened to call police about the stolen truck.

Ross argued Tina sought Cormier out, expecting to get a new bike, and Cormier would have been anxious to find Tina to ensure she didn't tell police about the stolen truck.

When Tina's body was pulled from the river, it had been there for at least a week. She was wearing the same clothes she wore when she was taken to hospital earlier on Aug. 8 after being found lying on the ground.

Last day

Ernest DeWolfe, a friend of Cormier at the time, told the jury that on Aug. 15 he asked Cormier about Tina's threat to call police. Cormier said he had talked to Tina the day before and "taken care of it," DeWolfe testified.

That date is impossible, because she was almost certainly dead, Ross said. But it constitutes an admission that Cormier saw Tina after their fight on Aug. 6, which is the last day he told police that he saw her.

But the defence pointed to inconsistencies with DeWolfe's testimony, and mentioned that DeWolfe admitted it's possible he was high during this conversation.

"You can't believe the testimony of Mr. DeWolfe," Kavanagh said.

Cormier's defence will tell the jury to "overthink" Cormier's words, Ross said.

"Believe him for what he says and convict him for what he did," Ross told the jury.

Kavanagh closed by calling Tina's death tragic, but saying putting Cormier in prison without justification will only add to the injustice. 

"It's undisputed  that Tina Fontaine had a tragic life. In part her life trajectory was brought about by the intergenerational dysfunction in our society brought about by the residential schools and all that flowed with it....However that is not what this trial is about."

Justice Joyal will give his final instructions to the jury starting at 11 a.m. local time on Wednesday.

With files from Caroline Barghout