Jury finds Raymond Cormier not guilty in death of Tina Fontaine
'My baby, my baby, my baby': Family members cry as verdict is read out
A jury has found Raymond Cormier not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine.
Cormier, 56, stared straight ahead as the verdict was read out, after which people in the crowd burst into tears and gasps of disbelief were heard from members of the teen girl's family and supporters. Her biological mother, Valentina Duck, swore at Cormier before walking out of the Winnipeg courtroom.
We've all failed her. We as a nation need to do better.— Grand Chief Sheila North
"F--k you if you think you can get away with this," Duck said.
As Cormier was led out, Thelma Favel — a great-aunt who helped raise Tina — sobbed "my baby, my baby, my baby." Loved ones and supporters helped her walk out of the courtroom, where she broke down in the hallway.
Tina's 72-pound body was found in Winnipeg's Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks, on Aug. 17, 2014. She was 15. Cormier was charged on Dec. 8, 2015.
Her death drew attention from across Canada and fuelled calls for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
- Verdict brings fresh pledges to combat violence against Indigenous women
- Canada failed Tina Fontaine, Manitoba Indigenous leaders say
- How Tina died remains a mystery following Cormier's acquittal
Nearly 100 people — including police officers who worked on the case, politicians, reporters and Indigenous leaders — had packed into the courtroom to hear the verdict.
Within minutes, Indigenous leaders in Manitoba criticized the systems that they say failed the teen from Sagkeeng First Nation, north of Winnipeg.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North, on the steps of the courthouse, said it was a "tremendously sad day for our people.
"This is not the outcome anybody wanted. The systems, everything that was involved in Tina's life, failed her. We've all failed her. We as a nation need to do better for our young people," said North.
"It might not be this accused person that took her life but someone took her life. That fact remains, and we must get to the bottom of it."
One woman playing a hand drum sang traditional Indigenous songs while other leaders spoke to the media.
Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels called on every member of Canadian society to work together to improve things for Indigenous people.
"If we want to talk about making our society great we have to do it together. Do not let things divide us, let's do it together. Let's change the justice system," said Daniels.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was among the first politicians to react to news of the verdict in a tweet.
"My thoughts are with Tina Fontaine's family. Tina's is a tragic story that demonstrates the failures of all the systems for Indigenous children and youth on every level. We need to do better — we need to fix this," she wrote.
The jury — made up of seven women and four men — deliberated for about 13 hours before returning to court with a verdict around 5 p.m. CT.
The trial began on Jan. 29 and lasted nearly three weeks. The defence did not present any evidence.
The Crown had no forensic evidence or eyewitnesses directly linking Cormier to Tina's death, and the cause of her death remains undetermined.
Instead, the Crown's largely circumstantial case relied on secretly recorded statements made by Cormier, along with testimony from witnesses who said they saw Cormier and Tina together in the days before she disappeared from the Best Western Charterhouse hotel in downtown Winnipeg on Aug. 8, 2014.
Crown prosecutors Jim Ross and Bretta Passler argued that statements made by Cormier in those recordings constituted admissions of guilt. In these recordings, Cormier seemed obsessed with Tina's killing, saying he wanted to find her killer but also making statements about her death.
- Timeline: From Tina's arrival in Winnipeg to Cormier's arrest
- Cormier verdict brings fresh pledges to combat violence against Indigenous women
In one recorded conversation on July 17, 2015, Cormier said: "15-year-old girl f--k. I drew the line, and that's why she got killed. She got killed, I'll make you a bet. She got killed because we found out, I found out she was 15 years old."
In another recording from months later, Cormier also said, "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."
Court also heard from witnesses who said they saw Cormier with the same type of duvet cover that was found with Tina's body, and that the two of them were seen arguing days before she disappeared.
Part of Cormier's motivation for killing Tina, the Crown argued, was that he wanted to have sex with her before he found out she was under 18, and then he didn't want to be known as a pedophile.
Cormier's defence lawyers, Tony Kavanagh and Andrew Synyshyn, challenged that evidence, arguing the Crown's case was built on inferences made from recordings that are difficult to hear.
First, with no cause of death, Kavanagh argued in his closing remarks that the jury cannot know for certain that Tina died as a result of an unlawful act, and Cormier should be acquitted "on that alone."
They argued those statements allegedly made by Cormier in transcripts prepared by police could not be verified by listening to the audio recordings and pointed out that at no point in the transcripts did Cormier admit to the killing.
Defence lawyers also challenged the memories of witnesses who said they saw Cormier with the duvet cover and suggested there are other potential suspects who might have harmed Tina.
Live blog of the verdict
With files from Caroline Barghout