(Jennifer Stewart, 36, in an undated photo.)
APTN National News
Every day they sit in the same spot just a few strides from the man accused of killing their loved one confined to the prisoner’s box at the Ottawa courthouse standing trial for first-degree murder.
The victim’s family can be seen earnestly following the motions as the jury trial moves along.
They’ve heard how she fought to save herself from an axe-wielding attacker with her wrists nearly severed maybe as she tried to stop the blows in the pitch black night of Aug. 20, 2010.
Jennifer Stewart was a 36-year-old Cree mother who died on a gravel parking lot in the inner-city community of Vanier in the city’s east end.
Those that loved her called her Jenny.
She is on the long list of murdered Indigenous women over the last 30 years in Canada – nearly 1,200 names join her.
And like some on that list, she was caught in the wide swath of addictions.
At the time of her death she weighed 80 pounds.
Stewart’s murder went unsolved for more than two years with no suspects. It was a case that was unlikely to be solved unless someone came forward.
Then on Feb. 25, 2013, someone did.
It was a young man already locked up in the local jail in Ottawa – Adrian Daou, now 24.
Suicidal and under 24-hour watch in segregation, Daou told a jail guard he wanted to confess to a murder.
That jailer called police who came the next day to get his confession on tape.
The Crown has presented its case. They allege Daou killed Stewart because he was angry at his life and thought maybe if he did something crazy, like murder someone, he’d become a famous rapper.
But there are issues with the case. For one there is no murder weapon. The axe he allegedly used was thrown away. First, Daou said he discarded it, then he said his dad did it.
The Ottawa police lead detective has testified he only left a voicemail with the dad to confirm whether the potential murder weapon was indeed gone and did nothing more to follow up.
Daou’s confession is riddled with incorrect information about the murder. He allegedly said Stewart never put up a fight to save herself – something a pathologist testified she did in vain.
He also said when he lured her to the parking lot at 120 Alice St. he surprised her, hitting her in the chest and back, but according to the autopsy, she had no wounds there. There were 28 wounds in total – the five to her head is what killed her. There were wounds on a leg, thigh and her pelvis. The pathologist testified there was a struggle as Stewart had a fractured arm from being grabbed and “twisted.”
Daou told police Stewart kept her hands to her side almost as though she wanted to die.
Police were able to track down a receipt from the Canadian Tire store Daou said he bought the axe, along with a painter’s mask and goggles. But there is no video of him purchasing the items and the cashier who sold them wasn’t called to the stand. Not to mention, the receipt is dated weeks before he said he bought it.
Daou also confessed to another murder, the name of the victim is under a publication ban, but police quickly discounted that confession because they had already arrested another man for that crime.
There are also questions about why Daou confessed. When he met with two Ottawa police detectives, he told them he needed to get out of the jail where they had him locked in segregation under suicide watch. He told them he wanted out and was willing to confess to a murder if they’d take him straight to a federal prison.
Throughout the Crown’s case the jury has heard him speak of hearing voices, and being mentally ill.
But on Wednesday, when the Daou’s defence team, funded by Legal Aid, took its turn to present its case, they told the jury they would have to consider if Daou is criminally responsible based on his mental state at the time. It was the first time the jury had heard this.
It was also the first time they heard that Daou, just days prior to allegedly confessing, had tried to get jail doctors to free him – even if that meant a trip to the hospital.
“He wanted me to use my influence to get him out of jail,” testified Dr. Shirley Brathwaite, a psychiatrist who attends to prisoners in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre where Daou was being held.
Brathwaite said Daou was threatening to cut his finger and bite his arm. She found it inappropriate that he was laughing throughout the short encounter on Feb. 22, just a few days before his alleged confession to police.
Brathwaite was asked to see Daou by Dr. Ian Shields, the jail psychologist, who also testified he met with Daou Feb. 20 in his office for an assessment.
He noticed something was off about Daou and asked him if he was hearing voices, which Daou denied.
But Daou did say he was possessed by demons and talked about cutting one of this fingers to free himself that the evil spirit.
“By cutting off one of his fingers he wouldn’t be possessed anymore,” said Shields, describing Daou’s logic at the time.
Shields would continue to meet with Daou, including several times after his alleged confession. In those meetings he described to the court that Daou appeared calmer and starring off into space.
The trial continues Monday when the defence calls its last remaining scheduled witness – the expert to testify to his mental state.