New trial ordered in Courtepatte killing

The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial for one man and upheld the conviction of another in the April 2005 rape and murder of Nina Courtepatte, a 13-year-old Edmonton girl.
Nina Courtepatte, 13, was slain in April 2005. ((CBC))
The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial for one man and upheld the conviction of another in the April 2005 rape and murder of 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte in Edmonton.

The country's highest court upheld Thursday a lower-court ruling that ordered a new trial for Michael Erin Briscoe, of Edmonton, who was acquitted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault in March 2007.

"I'm really glad he's going back to court and this time we'll get it right," said Courtepatte's mother, Peacha Atkinson, who said she slept no more than two hours Wednesday night, knowing the decision was coming.

The court also restored the first-degree murder conviction of Joseph Wesley Laboucan, originally from Fort St. John, B.C.

Thursday's decisions were welcomed by the Crown, according to David Dear, who speaks for Alberta Justice and  the attorney general.

"The Crown prosecutors would tell you that when we believe we're correct in law and the public interest is at stake, we aggressively pursue any case in the courts, as we have these ones and continue to in the case of Mr. Briscoe," Dear said.

"We presented a solid case to the Supreme Court on both these files and obviously their decision today is what we hoped for."

Lawyers for Briscoe and Laboucan declined the opportunity to comment Thursday.

Teen lured from West Edmonton Mall

Courtepatte's body was found at the Edmonton Springs Golf Resort on April 4, 2005.

Police said the girl was lured to the golf course by teens and young adults at nearby West Edmonton Mall. 

Laboucan and Briscoe were among five people tried for Courtepatte's murder.

Nina Courtepatte's mother, Peacha Atkinson, speaks to reporters in Edmonton on Wednesday. ((CBC))
Laboucan, 19 at the time of the slaying, was convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

He appealed his convictions and Alberta's Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. The Crown appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which has now ruled the convictions will stand.

Briscoe, 34 at the time of the crime, was acquitted of all charges. The trial judge found that Briscoe, who told police he was just driving the car and had no idea the others planned to sexually assault and kill Courtepatte, did not have the requisite intent for the offences.

Briscoe case sets legal precedent

The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned Briscoe's acquittal, ruling that, given the circumstances of the slaying, there was no way Briscoe could have been ignorant of the situation.

In legal terms, Briscoe was described as "wilfully blind." The Supreme Court, in upholding the Alberta court's decision, agreed the trial judge erred by failing to consider the concept of wilful blindness in making his decision.

"Wilful blindness imputes knowledge to an accused whose suspicion is aroused to the point where he or she sees the need for further inquiries, but deliberately chooses not to make those inquiries," the top court said in its ruling.

"In this case, the evidence cried out for an analysis on wilful blindness.  Even [Briscoe's] own statements to the police, on which the trial judge relied heavily, suggest that he had a strong, well-founded suspicion that someone would be killed at the golf course and that he may have been wilfully blind to the kidnapping and prospect of sexual assault.

"His statements also show that he deliberately chose not to inquire about what the members of the group intended to do because he did not want to know."

University of Alberta law professor Sanjeev Anand hailed the Briscoe ruling for setting a legal definition for "wilful blindness" that can be applied to a whole range of cases.

"We knew even before the Briscoe case that in order to be a party to the offence of murder, you had to have knowledge that the principal perpetrator of the murder intended to kill or intended to cause bodily harm that he knew was likely to cause death," he said.

"But we didn't know that you could substitute wilful blindness for knowledge, and the Supreme Court has clearly said, yes you can. Wilful blindness is enough to make someone a party to the offence of murder."

When the Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Laboucan in January 2009, the original trial judge was found to have erred in assessing Laboucan's credibility as a witness when he took the stand in his own defence. 

In restoring the convictions Thursday, the Supreme Court found the judge properly assessed and weighed the evidence of Laboucan and all witnesses.

Other people involved in the slaying have been convicted and sentenced.

Michael Williams, 17 at the time of the killing, was given an adult sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.

Stephanie Bird, then 17, was initially convicted of manslaughter and sentenced as an adult to 12 years in prison. In January, the Supreme Court upgraded the conviction to first-degree murder, and she is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years.

Another teen, who was 16 when Courtepatte was killed, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in 2009 to four years behind bars in a youth facility. The Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibits publishing her name.