Saskatoon

High-profile murder trial adjourned at last minute because of COVID-19 concerns in Sask.

A judge has adjourned the murder trial of Greg Fertuck until this fall due to concerns over COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. Fertuck, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife Sheree, was scheduled to have his trial begin on Monday at Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench.

Greg Fertuck was supposed to stand trial for 1st-degree murder starting Monday

Teaka White is anxiously awaiting the trial of Greg Fertuck, the man accused of killing her sister Sheree, who disappeared in 2015. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

A Saskatchewan judge has agreed to postpone a high-profile murder trial at the last minute because of public safety concerns stemming from spreading variant coronavirus cases. 

Greg Fertuck is accused of killing his estranged wife Sheree Fertuck in 2015 and getting rid of her body. Police have never found her remains, but Saskatchewan RCMP obtained a confession from Fertuck using a controversial undercover tactic. 

He was supposed to go on trial on Monday morning at Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon. But on Friday afternoon Justice Richard Danyliuk's decision to adjourn the matter until September was released. Danyliuk noted that the Crown had wished to proceed in some fashion, but Fertuck's lawyer Morris Bodnar sought the adjournment — dismissing concerns over his client's right to a timely trial. 

Fertuck has been in jail since his arrest in 2019. Given the complexity of the case, the judge noted that remote attendance is not an option for many people who need to testify. 

"There are key Crown witnesses for whom personal attendance is required to ensure a fair trial," Danyliuk wrote, noting it would be unsafe to have so many people travelling to Saskatoon from Regina — a COVID-19 hotspot. "The health and safety risks are just too great." 

Sheree's sister Teaka White spoke with CBC News in anticipation of the trial before it was adjourned. A relentless wind moaned as she walked through the remote area where her sister was last known to be. 

She said she was anxious about the trial. 

"We're going into year number six that she has been gone, so that's kind of hard to believe already," she said. "Time stands still for no one."

Sheree hauled gravel for a living and was last seen at a gravel pit near Kenaston, Sask., on Dec. 7, 2015. The area, located about 85 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon, feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. Her semi truck was left behind, along with her keys, coat and cellphone.

It's hard for White to believe how the gravel pit has expanded. She hasn't been there in years, since she last helped search for Sheree, who was 51 when she disappeared. It's where Sheree, who is presumed dead, spent the last years of her life.

When Sheree first went missing, people wondered if she had somehow become trapped beneath mounds of gravel. 

White was skeptical. 

"As you can see, the gravel piles don't really collapse," said White, pulling her coat closer and gazing up at a looming pile of earth.

"I think at that time they were probably just searching for any kind of answers, any kind of possibility, just because people just don't disappear, right?" 

Sheree Fertuck, 51, was last seen leaving her family's farm east of Kenaston, Sask., on Dec. 7, 2015. (RCMP)

Police suspected Greg murdered Sheree in 2016, but years passed before they arrested him. For Sheree's family, the case felt cold. 

They didn't know at the time that Saskatchewan RCMP were running an elaborate undercover operation called a Mr. Big sting. It's a controversial tactic that has police officers play criminals and build relationships with the suspect using fake identities. 

The goal is to obtain a confession, and police got one from Greg, who was charged with first-degree murder in 2019.

The trial will take place in front of just a judge, not a jury, when it goes ahead. Testimony will reveal the lengths police went to in order to get information from Greg. 

White had a glimpse of that at the preliminary hearing.  She choked up as she reflected on what she learned. 

"Kudos to them. These people put their heart and soul into this, for one person who was murdered," she said. "It's unbelievable. It becomes overwhelming." 

But Greg's lawyer Morris Bodnar slammed the tactic in an interview with CBC News. He said the tactic produces false confessions.

The judge will determine how much evidence from the sting the Crown can include in its case.

Greg said he told an undercover officer that he "got rid of" Sheree and threw her in the bush, but after his arrest he told CBC News that he made that up because he was scared of the undercover police officers who were posing as criminals.

Sheree's two sisters Teaka and Michelle Kish reject that explanation. Kish has thought about what could have happened over and over again. 

"You just always think of any possibility that would make any sense and sure, of course, you go through all those 'what-ifs,'" she said. "Nothing really makes sense considering their history, the past him, how he is, how he was toward her."

The gravel pit area where Sheree Fertuck used to work has grown since her disappearance. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Court records document two domestic incidents between Greg and Sheree. 

First, Sheree went to the Saskatoon police station and said Greg threatened to kill her. Greg had allegedly been intoxicated at the time and wanted his gun back from Sheree. When she refused, he told her, "There's another gun, I'm going to get it and put a bullet between your eyes."

He pleaded guilty to uttering a death threat against Sheree and to possessing a prohibited weapon.

The following year, Greg pleaded guilty to assault against Sheree for dragging her out of a room by her head during an argument, as well as for gun charges, including the possession of a prohibited firearm. That firearm was an Uzi.

Greg's trial is expected to last five weeks. Before the trial was adjourned, his lawyer said they are seeking an acquittal. 

Kish can't imagine that possibility. 

"If he is still the same person he was and continues with his drinking and anger, I'm a little bit fearful for what he might do to any one of us that has voiced their opinion," she said.

White said a jail cell would probably be "too good for him." 

"Maybe that's harsh on my part but for what he has put everybody through, especially his kids, maybe it's not harsh enough," she said. "Ideally I would really like to see the death penalty reinstated.… I know something like that will never happen again in our country, but if he's found guilty, [I hope] that he spends the rest of his life behind bars."

White remembered searching for Sheree years ago. She felt a sense of comfort returning to the pit — a place where Sheree and their late dad spent most of her time, with the family farm just down the road. 

In Sheree's absence, her family continues to move forward. White said Sheree missed meeting a new grandchild. She was also listed in her mother Juliann Sorotski's obituary as "predeceased."

Fertuck with her sister Michelle Kish in Kenaston. (Submitted by Michelle Kish)

Sorotski died of cancer in 2018. She never gave up looking for answers on what happened to her firstborn daughter. 

Now it's up to people like Kish and White to advocate for answers. White said the trial is another step, but it still doesn't equate closure. The RCMP historical case unit confirms searches could start up again after springtime thaw. 

They want to know where Sheree is, and they believe Greg has the answers. 

"Otherwise it's always going to be looming there, until I die. Every time they find remains, you know, could it be her? Could it not be her?" White said. "I know that Sheree's gone, but to give her a proper resting place and a proper burial would be closure for me."


For more on The Pit including a 360 video experience of the rural gravel pit where Sheree disappeared visit cbc.ca/thepit. Listen and subscribe to the podcast here.

With files from Alicia Bridges

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