WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — A man accused of killing a 15-year-old girl and dumping her body in Winnipeg’s Red River was found not guilty of second-degree murder on Thursday in a case that prompted outrage from Canadian indigenous leaders.
Tina Fontaine’s remains were discovered eight days after she was reported missing in August 2014. Raymond Cormier was charged more than a year later.
The Canadian government has been conducting a separate public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women across Canada. Fontaine’s death in 2014 fuelled calls for the national inquiry.
There were gasps from Fontaine’s family and their supporters as the verdict was read Thursday after more than 11 hours of deliberation by the jury.
Her great-aunt Thelma Favel, who raised Fontaine, wept.
“Do you really think you’re going to get away with it?” yelled one woman who was escorted out of the courtroom.
Cormier’s reaction was not visible because the prisoner’s box faced away from the gallery.
Reaction from the indigenous community was swift.
“It might not be this accused person that took her life but someone took her life. That fact remains and we must get to the bottom of it,” said Sheila North, grand chief of an organization that represents northern Manitoba First Nations. “All of us should be ashamed of what happened to her.”
The prosecution had argued that Cormier convicted himself with his own admissions on secret police recordings, but the defense said numerous forensic holes in the prosecution’s case had left reasonable doubt.
There was no DNA evidence linking Cormier to the teen and doctors who were called to testify said they could not definitively say how Fontaine died.
The jury heard that Cormier gave Fontaine and her boyfriend a place to stay, gave Fontaine drugs and had sex with her. Witnesses remember Fontaine and Cormier fighting in the street over a stolen truck and Fontaine accusing him of selling her bike for drugs. She went so far as to report a stolen truck to police.
Derrick Henderson, Sagkeeng First Nation Chief, said the system failed his people.
“It’s an injustice done to our people again,” Henderson said. “I just hope people that are watching worldwide see what we have to deal with every day.”
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett tweeted after the verdict.
“Tina’s is a tragic story that demonstrates the failures of all the systems for Indigenous children and youth on every level. We need to do better. We need to fix this.”