'Vindication': Elsipogtog First Nation relieved as charge laid in Brady Francis's death

Maurice Johnson of Saint-Charles has been charged with failing to stop at the scene of the accident that killed Brady Francis in February.

Maurice Johnson, 56, is charged with failing to stop at the scene of the accident

Brady Francis was 22 when he was struck and killed Feb. 24 by a driver who fled the scene. (Facebook photo)

Members of the Elsipogtog First Nation say they feel relieved and vindicated by news of a charge laid in the death of Brady Francis.

Maurice Johnson of Saint-Charles has been charged with failing to stop at the scene of the accident that killed Francis in February.

Francis's mother, Jessica Perley, responded to the news with a post on Facebook.

"Today is a great day," she said. "One big step closer to justice for our Brady boy."

Francis, of Elsipogtog First Nation, was found dead by the side of the road in Saint-Charles, about 100 kilometres north of Moncton. It's believed the 22-year-old was waiting for a ride home on Feb. 24 when he was struck on Saint-Charles South Road.

A summons was issued for Johnson, 56, on Tuesday. He is scheduled to enter a plea in Moncton provincial court on July 10.

The charge comes with a maximum sentence of life in prison, RCMP said.

115 days

A sign at CC's Entertainment Center, where Francis worked, kept a tally of the days without a charge. It read 115 days when the charge was announced by RCMP.

A sign at CC's Entertainment Center counted the days without a charge being laid after Brady Francis was killed. (CBC)

Former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters said her faith that justice would be served had begun to falter.

"I believe the RCMP must have done their job in order for the Crown to be able to lay charges," Levi-Peters said Wednesday. "It's good because it was taking so long. You started to lose faith."

She said there will be a large community presence in Moncton court on July 10.

Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief, said her faith in the justice system was beginning to wane as the months passed without word of a charge. (CBC)

Following Francis's death, rallies and vigils were organized across the province, and people pleaded for the driver who hit Brady to come forward and confess.

Kenneth Francis, the victim's grandfather, said the family was overwhelmed by the support in the #JusticeForBrady campaign. Feeling a "little relieved," he said the family will be present in court.

"I'm positive this event will have a positive conclusion for the family," Francis said.

The sign at the casino now reads "Day 1" — to mark the beginning of the next phase of seeking justice.

RCMP investigation

Earlier this year, RCMP completed an investigation into the hit-and-run and handed the file over to Crown prosecutors to review possible charges.

This is the first charge laid in the case — four months after Francis was struck.

"With any investigation, it takes the time it takes to conduct a proper investigation," Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, media relations officer with the New Brunswick RCMP, said in an interview with CBC News.

Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said RCMP conducted an 'exhaustive' investigation into Francis's death. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"In this particular case, it was an exhaustive investigation. Our investigators spoke with several people and they reviewed quite a bit of evidence and we believe the evidence gathered warrants the charge that [was] laid."

Rogers-Marsh said details of the evidence will come out in court.

RCMP said earlier that they arrested, questioned and released a person on March 15 as part of their investigation. They also released photos of a grey 2003 GMC Sierra 4 X 4 pickup truck they believed was involved in the collision.

Almost two months after Francis's death, officers returned to Saint-Charles Road South and shut down down a section while they investigated further.

'Vindication'

Kenneth Francis said the slow process created a sense that First Nations people were once again being marginalized by the justice system.

Citing cases in Western Canada, including Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie, Francis suggested the humanity of Indigenous people was at the point of being lost.

Kenneth Francis, Brady's grandfather, said the family was overwhelmed by the community support in the #JusticeForBrady movement. (CBC)

"Laying the charges is a vindication of sorts that says we are human beings and people are starting to recognize that we are human beings," he said.

Elsipogtog First Nation resident Charlotte Simon said she was happy when she received a text saying Johnson had been charged. Francis had worked with Simon and he knew her son.

She said he was a bright, outgoing young man.

Charlotte Simon, who knew Brady Francis, said the months waiting for news of a criminal charge was difficult for the community. (CBC)

"It's a sense of relief," Simon said.

"We'll never have Brady again, but it feels a little bit better to have some justice in this situation, this unfortunate tragedy that happened to him."

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy