A First Nations ceremony was performed in a Winnipeg courtroom Monday before the man accused of killing four women last year, two of whose remains are believed to be in a Winnipeg-area landfill, pleaded not guilty.
Jeremy Skibicki, 36, entered the pleas to four counts of first-degree murder while the smell of burned sage hung in the air.
“This morning the courtroom was smudged,” Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft told Court of King’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal as family members of the victims looked on. “Smudging is used to cleanse a room of negative energy.”
Vanderhooft noted there were also songs and prayers during the ceremony that occurred prior to the start of the two-week pretrial hearing, most of which is protected by a publication ban.
The prosecutor said tobacco ties – tobacco tied in red cotton to represent prayers – an eagle feather and a buffalo headdress would remain in the courtroom throughout the hearing.
Trial in April
Skibicki, sporting a grey sweatshirt, long beard and wire-rimmed glasses, is scheduled to stand trial in April. He is accused of killing 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, 39-year-old Morgan Harris, 24-year-old Rebecca Contois and an unidentified victim Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.
All four victims were Indigenous and many of their relatives and their supporters wore traditional First Nations ribbon skirts to court. A red ribbon dress was draped over an empty chair to represent Buffalo Woman.
Some family members who could not attend court were listening to the proceedings virtually.
Winnipeg Police believe the remains of Harris and Myran are in the Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg, while Contois’s remains were found last year at a separate landfill run by the city.
The remains of Buffalo woman have not been found.
The first pretrial motion Monday came from the defence.
Lawyers for Skibicki argued it was unconstitutional for their client to be prevented from having a judge-alone trial unless the Crown consented under section 469 of the Criminal Code. But Vanderhooft said jury trials were automatic for first- or second-degree murder and he opposed a change in this case.
Vanderhooft said Tuesday there would be a motion to determine the admissibility of Skibicki’s statement to police.