Connie Oakes pleads guilty to charges a year after wrongful murder conviction case

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Connie Oakes, a Cree woman who walked out of prison a year ago after she was wrongfully convicted of murder, pleaded guilty Thursday to a series of charges that could see her return behind bars.

Oakes, 52, pleaded guilty to four charges stemming from an April 5 incident at her home which sits on ranch land obtained by Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan as part of a treaty land entitlement deal. Crown prosecutor Steve Kritzer said Oakes pleaded guilty to forcible confinement, uttering threats, aggravated assault and breaching conditions during a court appearance in Swift Current, Sask., on Thursday.

Kritzer said all four charges stemmed from the April 5 incident where a man, in his 20s, was stabbed. He said Oakes did not stab anyone during the incident.

“She was party to an offence where an individual was stabbed,” said Kritzer.

Oakes is scheduled to appear in Swift Current on June 7 for a sentencing hearing. She has asked for a Gladue report and a pre-sentencing report.

Oakes was denied bail and will remain in custody until the sentencing hearing.

“The Crown had concern for public safety,” said Kritzer.

Kritzer said it was too early to say what type of sentence he would be seeking for Oakes, but it would be in line with precedence and be influenced by the Gladue and pre-sentencing reports.

Gladue reports were created by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling and focus on the unique historical context of Indigenous offenders.

Oakes was initially charged in the incident with Ricky Rockthunder, 35, who is known to have gang ties in Regina.

Rockthunder did not enter a plea and is scheduled to appear via video link on May 10 for a hearing to decide how he plans to proceed, said Kritzer. Rockthunder is facing charges of aggravated assault, forcible confinement, uttering threats, and breaching conditions.

Many of the details around the incident are under a publication ban because they emerged during Rockthunder’s bail hearing.

Saskatchewan RCMP initially said the local Maple Creek detachment arrested Oakes and Rockthunder after receiving a complaint that a male had been stabbed in a residence.

Oakes also pleaded guilty Thursday to a separate assault charge from June 21, 2016, and breaching an undertaking on Aug. 10.

Oakes was set free by Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench on April 29, 2016, after having a second-degree murder charge stayed. The stay meant the charge could be reactivated within a year and Oakes is days away from passing the milestone.

After she was released from federal prison following her wrongful murder conviction, Oakes said she wanted to get her life back on track. She planned to focus on raising her last remaining living son and care for the ranch where her elderly adoptive mother lives.

At the time of her initial arrest for the murder, Oakes was dealing with addiction issues and had a record of numerous run-ins with police and the courts.

Oakes was charged in 2012 with the murder of Casey Armstrong, who was found murdered with a puncture wound through the neck in the bathroom of his Medicine Hat, Alta., trailer.

With no murder weapon, DNA or fingerprint evidence, the Medicine Hat police built their case against Oakes on the testimony of an intellectually challenged woman named Wendy Scott. Scott pleaded guilty to involvement in Armstrong’s killing and claimed she watched Oakes stab the man to death.

Scott later recanted in an affidavit that said she didn’t believe Oakes was at the trailer at the time of the killing.

The Alberta Court of Appeal struck Scott’s guilty plea, overturned the conviction and order a new trial in 2015. The Crown requested a stay of Scott’s charges this past January.

The Alberta Court of Appeal overturned Oakes conviction and order a new trial on April 6, 2016.

Oakes’ second-oldest son Joseph Carry died from cancer while she was behind bars at the Edmonton Institution for Women.

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