Jury at Duran Redwood murder trial wasn't told about his history of domestic violence

It has been almost four years since police discovered Celeste Yawney's body in her bathtub, cold and covered in bruises.

'Celeste cared about the people that were harder to love': victim's sister

Celeste Yawney was 33 when she was slain in her own home. Her sister Janine Pereira said Yawney had a 'heart full of love to give anyone who needed it. She would have given you the shirt off her back.' (Submitted)

It has been almost four years since police discovered Celeste Yawney's body in her bathtub, cold and covered in bruises.

Officers found her the morning of May 24, 2015. They knew where to look because her boyfriend Duran Redwood showed up at the police station hours earlier wearing pants covered in her blood. He told police he had found her body, but didn't know what happened.

Police arrested Redwood for murder and the case became a domestic homicide. 

Yawney's family describes her as a mother who had "a heart of gold" and put others needs ahead of her own. She had once worked at the YWCA Isabel Johnson Shelter, counseling women facing domestic abuse.

Saskatchewan had the highest rate among Canadian provinces of police-reported intimate partner violence in a 2016 report by Statistics Canada.

Redwood's trial for second-degree murder trial began on January 14, 2019. Redwood entered a plea of not guilty in Yawney's death.

The question for the jury is about intent.

Co-Crown prosecutors Loreley Berra and Constance Hottinger argued Redwood had the intention necessary for murder, whereas defence lawyer Kevin Hill told the jury Redwood is only guilty of manslaughter because he was so intoxicated he couldn't understand the consequences of his actions that night. 

Jurors were dismissed to begin deliberating Friday.

'We really don't ever want anyone to forget about her'

Janine Pereira and her family members attended every day of Redwood's trial at Regina's Court of Queen's Bench. 

"This is a chance for us again to get her name out there and just be there for her, so that's why I'm here. For her," Pereira said, sitting with her mom Carla Yawney and sister Laurel Gardiner in her childhood Regina home.

"We really don't ever want anyone to forget about her."

Pereira said she likes answering questions about Yawney, even the difficult ones. It helps with the healing. 

"Celeste cared about the people that were harder to love, you know, maybe irritating or had a lot of issues or a lot of problems," she said.

"She would do anything she could to help them." 

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

Redwood's history of domestic assault

The Crown was not allowed to cross examine Redwood about his history of domestic assault, due to a successful Corbett Application by Redwood's lawyer.

The jury didn't hear that Redwood was charged previously with assault causing bodily harm to Yawney. Redwood pleaded guilty in January 2015 and was released on an 18-month conditional sentence.

Hottinger told Justice Guy Chicoine that Redwood violated those conditions because he wasn't supposed to be living with Yawney.

Hottinger went through Redwood's prior convictions of domestic assault in the absence of the jury. She said Redwood had been convicted twice for assaulting one of his previous girlfriends. Hottinger said Redwood was later involved in another domestic incident in which he kicked down his ex-partner's door to gain access to her home.

Redwood had also been previously convicted of assaulting his mom. 

Hottinger made a passionate plea to the judge that the record should come before the jury because of the pattern. 

"These actions don't come out of nowhere," she said. "It's as if he comes before this court with no history."

Chicoine ruled it would be highly prejudicial for the Crown to question Redwood about his record. Chicoine also ruled the Crown would not be allowed to ask Redwood about whether he became violent when he drinks — something he voluntarily told police in 2015. 

"We don't want to be redoing this trial," he said. 

Childhood memories

Pereira gazed out the picture window of their childhood home and remembered how she and Yawney would ride bikes around and around for what seemed like forever.

The last time Pereira saw her sister alive was Christmas 2015. The women went shopping and cuddled, as Yawney liked to do.

Pereira said she collapsed to the ground when she heard her sister was dead. 

Her favourite memories are simple things: creating a toboggan ride down the stairs or skating on the makeshift rink their dad would make in the backyard. They'd play catch when the weather warmed.

Carla Yawney (left) sits with her daughters Janine Pereira and Laurel Gardiner in Regina. Pereira and her family members never want Celeste Yawney to be forgotten. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

She remembered the funeral service, where one of the speakers said that if someone had put a sign on a chair that said "reserved for Celeste's best friend, every single person in that room would have thought that chair was for them."

Pereira admitted that Yawney made mistakes.

"I'm not saying she was perfect but she always had a positive attitude about getting past those mistakes."

A forensic pathologist who testified at the trial told the jury Celeste Yawney's death was was caused by blunt force trauma to the head and trunk, adding she was was likely punched, kicked and stomped.

Pereira said Yawney's death was especially hard on the family as it happened just one year after their dad's sudden death. Pereira spent many long, hard days in bed after her sister died. 

"There was a certain point where I could hear my sister's voice tell me that she's OK."

The family has leaned on one another for support, relying on their "Yawney fire," she said. 

A jury trial was scheduled for October 2017, but it was postponed three days before the start date because Redwood fired his lawyer. Pereira had flown to Regina with her two other sisters and the family felt they were denied a sense of closure.

It's why they were happy, in a way, about the trial starting.

"I know that no matter what happens at the trial, for us it will probably never be enough for what she went through, but we know she is okay," she said.

"We also feel like her life was taken from her too soon."

You can find a comprehensive list of Saskatchewan's domestic abuse help lines here