Connie Oakes sues Alberta Crown, Medicine Hat police for $1M over wrongful murder conviction

A Cree woman from Nekaneet First Nation, Sask., is suing the Alberta government, a Crown prosecutor and Medicine Hat police for $1 million over her wrongful conviction for murder.

With no forensic evidence linking her to death of Casey Armstrong, Crown relied on star witness with IQ of 50

Connie Oakes has launched a $1 million lawsuit over her wrongful murder conviction. (CBC)

A Cree woman from Nekaneet First Nation, Sask., is suing the Alberta government, a Crown prosecutor and Medicine Hat police for $1 million over her wrongful conviction for murder.

Connie Oakes was one of two women convicted for the May 2011 murder of Medicine Hat resident Casey Armstrong. Oakes and her co-accused Wendy Scott had their second-degree murder convictions overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal in 2016.

Her statement of claim, filed with Court of Queen's Bench in Medicine Hat on Friday, alleges the Crown prosecutor and Medicine Hat police investigators handling the case acted in a "malicious" manner in their pursuit of Oakes.

The claim alleges Medicine Hat police investigators were "negligent" in an investigation compromised by "tunnel vision."

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Oakes, who is now living in Saskatoon, said she hoped the lawsuit would bring her "closure," but said she still wants to see justice done for Armstrong's family. 

"I don't think there will will ever be [closure] until it's written on paper and somebody else is formally charged for what happened to Casey," said Oakes in a telephone interview Monday.

Casey Armstrong was found dead in the bathtub of his Medicine Hat, Alta., trailer in May 2011. His murder is still unsolved. (submitted)

Armstrong, whose murder remains unsolved, had two grown children at the time of his death — a son and a daughter.

"I definitely want answers and somebody behind bars for this," said Armstrong's daughter Karli Armstrong. 

"It's very unfair to my dad, as well as our family, that nothing is happening and nobody is being held accountable."

Alberta's Justice and Solicitor General Ministry said in a statement "it would be inappropriate to comment" because the matter is now before the courts.

Medicine Hat police Insp. Brent Secondiak, who is named in the lawsuit and led the investigation against Oakes and Scott, said the police service could not comment because the civil case was before the courts.

The lawsuit names eight Medicine Hat police officers and Chief Andy McGrogan. It also names local Crown prosecutor Andrea Dolan who now goes by the name of Andrea Pocha Robbenhaar.

Medicine Hat Insp. Brent Secondiak led the investigation into Connie Oakes who was wrongfully convicted of murder. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Co-accused recants testimony

Oakes was found guilty by a non-Indigenous jury in November 2013 of second-degree murder in the killing of Armstrong, who was found clothed in the bathtub of his trailer with a puncture wound through his neck.

The Alberta Court of Appeal quashed Oakes' conviction in April 2016 and ordered a new trial. The second trial never proceeded after the Crown requested a stay of the murder charge.

Months earlier, in October 2015, the Court of Appeal quashed the second-degree murder conviction and ordered a new trial for Oakes' co-accused Scott, a woman from Brooks, Alta., with an IQ of 50. The Crown also stayed the murder charge against Scott.

​Scott, who initially pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was the star witness for the Crown against Oakes. With no murder weapon, fingerprints or any forensic evidence linking Oakes to the killing, the Medicine Hat police and Pocha Robenhaar relied on Scott to build their case against Oakes.

Scott initially blamed three other people for the killing — two men and a woman nicknamed "Ginger" — before settling on Oakes.

Scott's testimony during trial was riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. She later recanted her testimony against Oakes while incarcerated.

Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel is representing Connie Oakes. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

"It is highly problematic how Wendy Scott was treated and induced to give incriminating evidence while turning a blind eye to other suspects," said Oakes' Edmonton-based lawyer Tom Engel.

"It seems incredible any reasonable jury would have convicted [Oakes]."

Engel said the case "seems like a tragedy for both" Oakes and Scott.

Missed son's funeral

While wrongfully imprisoned for Armstrong's murder, Oakes was prevented by the National Parole Board from seeing her son Joseph Carry, 23, who was dying of cancer. She was also prevented from attending his funeral.

"Not much will change the past," said Oakes.

"I would like to know why they didn't do their job right, why they had to put it on me. Nothing will ever change the fact that Joe is gone."

Oakes hit rock bottom after she was released from federal prison following the Crown's decision to stay the second-degree murder charge. She couldn't land a job because her name was connected to the murder.

"It's sad that I had to resort back to my old ways in order to survive with no help on the reserve," she said.

Oakes is now living in Saskatoon trying put her life back together after spending three months in jail following a guilty plea to charges of forcible confinement, uttering threats and aggravated assault in relation to an incident at her home.

Oakes is currently looking for work and struggling to pay the rent. She can't qualify for any income assistance rent subsidies because she is still technically serving her sentence while on an extended temporary absence which ends May 31.

"There are just no supports out there for reintegration for prisoners," said Oakes.

"There are just no support systems whatsoever."

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him