The manslaughter trial for Kenneth Courtorielle, 38, who is accused of killing Billie Wynelle Johnson in December of 2020 began in an Edmonton courtroom on Monday.
Courtorielle pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge but guilty to committing an indignity to a body and for being unlawfully at large.
Marless Johnson, Billie’s mother who has worked hard to keep her daughter’s disappearance and death in the media, said she will always remember her daughter for her spirit.
“Billie was a feisty young woman. She was stubborn from the get-go,” Marless told APTN News. “You couldn’t tell her nothing. She had to experience everything on her own. She was a very beautiful woman.”
Billie was also a mother of two.
Since her daughter’s death, Marless has started a foundation called the Southern Wind Foundation to help families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and men.
“I know when my daughter went missing I needed a lot of support,” said Marless. “Going at it alone is the worst.”
On the first day of the trial the court heard testimony from Jennifer Cappo, a friend of Billie’s, who said that on Dec. 24, she and Billie spent part of the day with her mother.
According to Cappo, Billie had a disagreement with her mother and left.
She got in a cab to go to the apartment of Courtorielle – her boyfriend.
Mother cried listening to testimony
Marless was in the courtroom and at times cried while listening to the testimony that was given. Family and allies sat with her. The group Redrum Warriors 4 the People came out to show support.
Marless said she was disappointed to discover that it was a judge-only trial. She had not been told before the trial.
With a charge of manslaughter, a jury isn’t required if the Crown prosecutor consents to a judge-only trial.
In court, the Crown described Billie as a prolific Facebook poster.
Cappo said she had made plans to meet up with Billie. She communicated through texts and voice messages. Cappo went to another house before finally going to where Billie lived with Courtorielle.
Cappo testified that she pressed multiple buzzers and sent messages. She said she went outside and yelled up at a second story window.
The Crown asked Cappo to recreate the volume she yelled at the window, but Cappo declined multiple times to yell in the courtroom.
According to an agreed statement of facts, a neighbour confirmed that they saw Billie at 9:30 p.m. She had been talking on a cell phone in the hallway and returned back inside the apartment.
Billie’s phone records showed that she has called the number for her uncle and spoke for 42 minutes.
The court heard that after the disagreement on Christmas Eve, Chappo found it unusual when she didn’t hear from Billie again.
According to the agreed statement of facts which was read out in court, on Dec. 27, a distraught Marless came to Courtorielle’s apartment and demanded to know where her daughter was. She yelled from the outside of the building.
A day later, Courtorielle took his Dodge Ram truck to be detailed at Bubbles Carwash. This cleaning included a shampoo of the carpet in the cab portion of the truck.
GPS phone data
The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said it worked with a company called Cellebrite to crack the password on Billie’s phone. Using GPS data, police analysts traced the phone’s journey from the apartment Courtorielle and Billie shared to 37 km due north of Edmonton.
The phone remained there until it was taken directly back to the apartment.
The court heard that a search party that was organized to follow the GPS. That’s when partial remains were located. A swab confirmed Billie’s identity.
Const. Matthew Broadfoot, who has worked for nine years at EPS as a patrol constable, was one of the officers involved in the investigation.
When asked by the Crown, Const. Broadfoot noted that when he questioned Courtorielle he did not seem overly concerned.
“There did seem to be a lack of concern… especially in the deletion of messages where Billie seemed to say something was wrong,” Broadfoot testified.
On cross-examination Const. Broadfoot said that Courtorielle was cooperative and responded quickly after an initial call.
Marless said it has been difficult to hear the details of the trial so far but that she is trying to stay strong for Billie.
“People have rallied around me during these last two years…but it’s been rough. She was my baby.”
The trial will continue for two weeks.