Celeste Yawney's sisters call for change after homicide trial delay

The trial for the man accused in the murder of Celeste Yawney was set to begin Monday, but was postponed after the accused dismissed his lawyer. Yawney's family say they were caught off-guard by the delay and are calling for change.

'We were looking forward to having some closure,' says sister of Regina woman killed in 2015

Celeste Yawney was a mom to two boys and worked with the YWCA Isabel Johnson Shelter, counselling women facing domestic abuse. (Submitted)

Celeste Yawney's family say they were crushed when they found out the trial for the man accused of killing her has pushed back.

"I was completely devastated," Janine Pereira said as she sat on the couch in the Regina home where she grew up alongside her little sister, Celeste Yawney. 

Yawney was killed in her own Regina home in 2015. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Duran Redwood, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the homicide. 

Pereira has spent the past two and a half years seeking counseling and working on a victim impact statement for the trial.

"I've been preparing myself to be able to sit in the same room as him, and stand up for Celeste and finally be able to show my support."

The Yawney siblings were raised in Regina as a tight-knit family. (Submitted)
The family learned the trial was being delayed — because Redwood dismissed his lawyer — on Friday afternoon, three days before the trial by jury was set to begin.

Yawney's three sisters had already purchased plane tickets and made arrangements to fly in from Arizona.

"We were looking forward to having some closure and had prepared ourselves mentally, emotionally, which was not easy," said Laurel Gardiner, another of Yawney's sisters.

"Two and a half years is two years too long."

Gardiner said the delay made her question Canada's justice system. 

The family wants to see policy changed, so an accused can't dismiss their lawyer one business day before a trial is set to begin.

"He's been able to make these decisions, and it feels like he has the power and that the accused is given more rights than the victim," Pereira said, adding they don't want another family to go through what they have. 

"This was unjust. Unfair."

Laurel Gardiner, Yvonne Yawney and Janine Pereira say it feels like the man accused of killing their sister has more control over how the case proceeds through the justice system than they do. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

The sisters also hope to draw attention to domestic violence, something they've learned can happen to anyone.

"We never thought our sister would ever be murdered," Gardiner said.

"People might think, 'That wouldn't be my sister, wouldn't be my mother' — but it very well could be."

Pereira said she hopes something positive can come from their pain.

"More awareness about domestic violence, some kind of change in the system, to where this isn't taking this long," she said. "That's the only thing that really keeps me going, is that maybe this will bring awareness and help someone else."

'Inconvenience for everyone'

"You certainly expect that there would be costs and delays and certainly inconvenience for everyone," because of such a postponement, said Glen Luther, professor with the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

"You can think of all the witnesses that were ready to be there," he said, noting that includes family members, police officers and other experts. 

However, he said people are entitled to their choice of legal counsel and it's a natural part of the system for a trial to be delayed.

Furthermore, it's likely a trial would take much longer without a defence lawyer.

"In a serious case like a murder, it's very difficult for anyone to be able to go to trial without counsel," Luther said.

Celeste Yawney was 33 when she was killed in her own home. (Submitted by Laurel Gardiner)

The accused could miss opportunities to testify or question witnesses. There is a risk the decision would be overturned during an appeal if the accused didn't understand what was happening, he said.

"The judge is sort of in a catch-22," he said, noting the court must accept that the trial will be delayed as the accused finds new counsel, or carry on with the risk of an overturned decision.

Redwood is set to appear in court on Friday to speak to a judge.