A lawyer for two Saulteaux sisters in Saskatchewan is seeking to have their second-degree murder convictions reduced to manslaughter.
“I am very hopeful,” said James Lockyer, who is representing Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance at no charge.
“I genuinely believe that Saskatchewan Justice will think long and hard about doing justice for Odelia and Nerissa.”
Lockyer, a wrongful conviction advocate in Toronto, believes the Saulteaux women from Keeseekoose First Nation have served their time.
They were each sentenced in 1994 to life in prison for the death of Kamsack-area farmer Anthony Dolff in 1993.
Both have served nearly 30 years for the crime that occurred after they and their younger cousin partied with Dolff, who was 70.
The cousin – Jason Keshane, who was 14 at the time – was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to two years. The sisters have maintained their innocence throughout.
Lockyer and other advocates feel the women should be freed because their cousin confessed to the killing that happened in Dolff’s home near Kamsack.
“They are going on their 29th year inside,” said Kim Beaudin, national vice chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
“There’s a travesty of justice here.”
Lockyer confirmed Wednesday he had sent a request to Saskatchewan Justice asking to craft a joint proposal to federal Justice Minister David Lametti.
“The goal is to get Odelia and Nerissa released from prison so they can live the rest of their lives free of state restraints,” he said in a telephone interview with APTN News.
A spokesperson for Saskatchewan Justice said, “Public Prosecutions does not comment on whether it has received correspondence.”
Lockyer said if the request is denied he would turn to Lametti himself.
“If Saskatchewan Justice says no to my proposal, I would bring an application to Minister Lametti for relief pursuant to provisions of the Criminal Code,” he said, “and ask the minister to quash their murder convictions.”
Neither Odelia nor Nerissa, who were 19 and 21, respectively, when convicted, were available to comment for this story.
Advocates pushing for the sisters’ freedom say Indigenous women comprise a disproportionate number of inmates behind bars and represent the fastest-growing prison population in Canada.
When asked why he is not seeking full exoneration for the women, Lockyer said the case “is complex.”
He said he feels he and Saskatchewan justice officials “should be able to find a way” to substitute the murder convictions with manslaughter.
“The sisters were in Mr. Dolff’s home when he was killed by their cousin,” he said. “And Saskatchewan Justice believes that they share some responsibility for what happened.”
Two retired judges, including Harry Laforme, have also put their names behind the push to free the women.