Accused Canadian serial killer Jeremy Skibicki goes on trial in Winnipeg

Jeremy Skibicki
Jeremy Skibicki is accused of murdering four indigenous women in 2022.

The high-profile trial of a Canadian man accused of murdering four indigenous women two years ago has opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Jeremy Skibicki has pleaded not guilty to four first-degree murder charges.

In an unexpected development on Monday, his lawyers said their client has admitted the killings but will argue he is not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

Families of the victims say they want him held responsible for the murders.

Caution: This article contains upsetting content.

Jeremy Skibicki’s victims – Morgan Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a fourth unidentified woman who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman – are all First Nations women.

Prosecutors accuse the Winnipeg native, who is in his mid-30s, of taking the women home and sexually assaulting them before murdering them between March and May of 2022.

He was arrested that same year, after the remains of Ms Contois were discovered in a garbage bin and at a local landfill.

Police believe the bodies of Ms Harris and Ms Myran were disposed of at a separate landfill north of the city. Their remains have yet to be found.

The location of the remains of the fourth victim – Buffalo Woman – is unknown.

Crown prosecutors have agreed the trial, which was originally scheduled to be before a jury, can be heard by a judge alone.

An earlier request by Jeremy Skibicki’s lawyers to not have a jury was initially denied, but on Monday the trial judge accepted their request after the defence said it was now seeking a not criminally responsible verdict.

Jurors who had already been selected in late April to hear the case are expected to be officially dismissed on Wednesday morning.

The trial is expected to continue through early June.

Experts say the trial’s focus will likely shift given the suspect’s not guilty plea on the basis of mental illness.

Brandon Trask, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, told the BBC on Wednesday that typically, murder trials are about proving the accused’s guilt. In this case, the onus will be on the defence to prove that the suspect suffers from “a disease of the mind that rendered him incapable of appreciating the nature of his actions”.

“That’s very much an uphill battle for the defence in this case, where you’ve got multiple victims spread out over a period of time,” Mr Trask said.

If the suspect is successful in proving he is not criminally responsible, he would spend time in a forensic hospital setting rather than behind bars, and would be subject to annual hearings that would determine the level of freedoms that can be afforded to him moving forward.

The killings of the four women sparked an outcry in Canada, where a disproportionate number of indigenous women and girls are murdered or go missing.

In 2014, the federal statistics agency reported that indigenous women are six times more likely to be the victim of a homicide than non-indigenous women.

The case has also remained in the news as the families of the victims have fought to pressure the government to authorise and pay for the search the Prairie Green landfill, where the remains of Ms Myran and Ms Harris are believed to be.

Initially, the provincial Manitoba government refused, citing the challenges of finding the remains, the cost, and concerns for worker safety given the presence of hazardous chemicals at the site.

But the province shifted course after a change in government saw the election of Premier Wab Kinew, who is indigenous.

A search will likely start later this year after the province and Ottawa set aside a combined C$40m ($29m; £23.3m) in funding.

The news was welcomed by Cambria Harris, Ms Harris’ daughter, who has been advocating for the search since 2022.

“It’s about showing our indigenous women, our indigenous people, that we’re worth it,” Ms Harris told CBC news recently.

“That we’re valued, that we’re loved and we’re more than worth searching for.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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