Alberta Crown at crossroads in Connie Oakes murder case saga

Co-accused in Connie Oakes murder case begins process for new trial

(Wendy Scott in a photo posted to her Facebook page in 2008)

Read APTN’s reports on the Connie Oakes case here

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
With her ankles shackled and wearing navy blue prison slippers, sweat pants and sweat shirt, Wendy Scott appeared in a Medicine Hat, Alta., courtroom Thursday morning for proceedings that could lead to her second trial for murder.

Scott’s face was a turbulence of tics and grimaces. Her head turned left to right in seemingly involuntary movements. Both arms swung constantly at her side. Her left hand was cocked inwardly at the wrist as if to mimic a duck head for shadow play. Her right hand also moved in an involuntary frenzy, clenching and un-clenching, fingers moving in their own erratic patterns.

Scott’s brown hair fell loose past her shoulders and her face appeared much thinner than in the photographs of herself she posted on Facebook before becoming the linchpin for two murder convictions in the slaying of Medicine Hat man Casey Armstrong.

In May 2011 Armstrong was found dead in the bathtub of his mobile home, a knife wound through his neck, blood splash patterns across the walls.

Scott said little during her brief appearance. She said “okay” when Justice Carolyn Phillips set her arraignment date for Dec. 17 because files were still being transferred. She said, “Alright, thank you,” as she was led out of the courtroom.

Scott never seemed focused as she stood in the prisoner’s box next to Justice Phillips. Her new lawyers from Calgary weren’t there, nor was the Crown from the Calgary rural and regional response office tasked with handling the case instead of a local Crown. Both sides were represented by agents.

By happenstance, the dead man’s son, Tanner Armstrong went to use the adjacent bathroom while Scott was still in a secure interview room beside the courtroom. He claims they made eye contact through the window in the door before she quickly turned away.

“Every time she tells her story, it’s a different story. She lies every time she talks,” said Tanner Armstrong, following Scott’s hearing.

Armstrong and his sister Karli Armstrong were both at Scott’s appearance before the Court of Queen’s Bench. Scott is now facing a first degree murder charge because the Alberta Court of Appeal in October struck down her June 2012 guilty plea on second degree murder. That ruling was the result of the Crown conceding to the new trial in pre-appeal filings.

On this day, her sweat suit-clad body moved in the same erratic patterns as the stories that initially led her to enter a guilty plea in Casey Armstrong’s murder and to the conviction of her co-accused, Connie Oakes, a Cree woman from the Nekaneet First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

Connie Oakes pictured along with the Edmonton Institution for Women where she is currently held.
Connie Oakes pictured along with the Edmonton Institution for Women where she is currently held.

According to one of her affidavits filed as part of her appeal, a psychiatrist puts Scott’s IQ at 50, which puts her at the “extremely low range of cognitive ability.”

Scott stated in the affidavit that she didn’t realize she was admitting to murdering Armstrong when she pleaded guilty to second degree murder. Scott also claims she was coerced by Medicine Hat Police interrogators while she was high on drugs. And, she claims, she was interrogated months longer than was disclosed by the Crown. She also states in an affidavit that she doesn’t believe Oakes was at the murder scene.

The police deny these claims.

Tanner (left) and Karli Armstrong (right) walk out of Wendy Scott's Court of Queen's hearing Thursday. APTN/Photo
Tanner (left) and Karli Armstrong (right) walk out of Wendy Scott’s Court of Queen’s hearing Thursday. APTN/Photo

Scott’s initial guilty plea was the foundation for the Medicine Hat Crown’s case against Oakes in November 2013. There was no murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints or eye witnesses tying Oakes to the murder beyond Scott’s claim that she was there when Armstrong was killed. The local Crown also failed to produce any details about a red car it argued was used by Oakes and Scott to drive to Armstrong’s trailer to kill him on the 2011 May long-weekend.

Despite dozens of contradictions throughout Scott’s testimony a jury found Oakes guilty of the murder and she was sentenced to life without parole for 14 years.

Oakes is appealing her murder conviction and a hearing is now scheduled for Jan. 12 next year. Her defense team is preparing a new defense partly based on the quashing of Scott’s guilty plea by the Court of Appeal.

Oakes, however, wasn’t the only one Scott accused of involvement in Casey Armstrong’s murder. During police interrogations Scott said two other men and another woman killed Armstrong. Only one of these men was called to testify during the trial and he had an alibi. A cousin said he was working in Saskatchewan the weekend of the murder. APTN National News contacted the second man who also denied he had anything to do with the murder.

There was a man’s bloody boot-print in the bathroom where Armstrong was killed. It has never been identified.

APTN has since learned that the woman Scott named under interrogation owned the red Grand Am Medicine Hat investigators believed was used in the murder. This car was identified in a prosecutor’s summary of the case obtained by APTN. However, that detail was never submitted during trial.

The woman, known by the street nickname Ginger, pleaded guilty on Aug. 19, 2011, about four months after Armstrong’s murder, to possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. She received a three-and-a-half year sentence. Ginger was seen with a red Grand Am during the police surveillance preceding her arrest. APTN has chosen not to publish Ginger’s real name for the time being.

APTN tracked Ginger down since her release from prison. She is living on her parent’s ranch which sits about 70 kilometres southwest of Medicine Hat.

She denied any connection to the Armstrong murder and kicked APTN off her property.

“I had nothing to do with it,” said Ginger. “I want nothing to do with any of you. Beat it. It’s trespassing.”

Scott’s new trial will have an impact on Oakes’ chances for a successful appeal.

It is currently unclear if the Crown will proceed with a first degree murder charge against Scott, given her ever shifting stories.

The cases against Oakes and Scott, which currently appear tied by ever fraying threads, could completely fall to pieces.

Casey Armstrong’s children say they plan to be there every step of the way, even if that means sitting through another trial about the brutal murder of their father.

“It sucks…I can’t really prepare for it,” said Karli Armstrong.

“I have hardly any confidence (in the justice system),” said Tanner. “I don’t know what to expect. She is kind of the only evidence.”

Both say they still believe Scott and Oakes committed the murder.

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