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Judge to rule in trial of man who confessed to killing four women in Winnipeg

Judge to rule in trial of man who confessed to killing four women in Winnipeg
Judge to rule in trial of man who confessed to killing four women in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG — A judge will deliver his verdict today in the first-degree murder trial of a man who admitted killing four women in Winnipeg.

Attorneys for Jeremy Skibicki argue that he is not criminally liable, saying he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the 2022 killings.

However, prosecutors say he had the mental capacity and consciousness to commit and cover up the murders.

They characterize the killings as racially motivated and say the 37-year-old targeted Indigenous women in homeless shelters.

The case led to calls for governments and organizations to address the ongoing problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

A conviction for first-degree murder would automatically result in a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. However, if Skibicki is found not criminally liable, he would have to be held in a hospital until a review board determines he no longer poses a danger to society.

During the week-long trial, two forensic psychiatrists testified with opposing motives for killing the four women: Morgan Harris, 39; Marcedes Myran, 26; Rebecca Contois, 24; and an unidentified woman named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman) by an indigenous community.

Contois was from the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and Harris and Myran were from the Long Plain First Nation. All three were living in Winnipeg at the time of their murders.

The only evidence police have to help identify Buffalo Woman is DNA found on the sleeve of a woman’s jacket.

Dr. Sohom Das, testifying for the defense, said Skibicki felt compelled to kill the women because he was on a mission from God and heard auditory hallucinations that prompted him to kill.

According to Das, Skibicki knew at the time that the murders were legally wrong, but he could not have realized that they were morally wrong.

The court heard that Skibicki had a history of mental illness, including depression, borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts, but had never previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, an expert appointed by the Crown, testified that Skibicki likely had antisocial disorders and substance abuse, but that he did not have an active serious mental disorder at the time of the murders.

Chaimowitz said he believes Skibicki was driven to murder by his sexual interest in the dead.

The murders came to light in May 2022, when a man searching for scrap metal found Contois’s partial remains in a dumpster in Skibicki’s neighborhood. More of her remains were discovered the following month at a city-run landfill.

During a police interview, Skibicki admitted to killing Contois and the three other women. He said the killings were racially motivated and cited white supremacist beliefs.

The court heard he attacked the women, strangled or drowned them and performed sex acts on their bodies before throwing them in a bin.

Buffalo Woman was murdered in March of that year. Harris and Myran were murdered in May.

The Public Prosecution Service does not expect that there are any more victims.

In 2022, police said they suspected the remains of Harris and Myran had been taken to another landfill outside the city, but an investigation at that site would be too complicated and dangerous.

There have been nationwide protests demanding a search of the Prairie Green landfill. The federal and Manitoba governments recently committed a combined $40 million for a search, which is expected to begin in the fall.

The federal government has a helpline for people affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness Helpline, with support in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

The Canadian Press