Medicine Hat police could face public investigation over how officers handled murder case against Cree woman

(Connie Oakes. Photo courtesy of Oakes’ family)

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
CALGARY–A southern Alberta police department is expected to undergo further scrutiny over allegations three of its officers coaxed and coerced a stoned, mentally feeble suspect to build a case against a Cree woman now serving 14 years for a murder she says she did not commit, the appeal’s court in Alberta heard Tuesday.

The latest development in the case emerged in Calgary during an appeal bail hearing in the case of Connie Oakes, 49. Oakes is fighting a conviction of second degree murder in the killing of Medicine Hat, Alta., resident Casey Armstrong, 48, who was found dead in the bathtub of his trailer with a large knife wound through his neck.

Justice Brian O’Ferrall did not immediately rule on the appeal bail application filed by Oakes’ lawyers, saying he would be issuing his decision before the end of the week.

With no murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints or physical evidence linking Oakes to the murder, Medicine Hat police and the local Crown relied on the testimony of a self-described small town crack dealer named Wendy Scott. Scott, who claimed she was with Oakes when Armstrong was killed. Scott’s testimony, which had many versions and was riddled with contradictory details of the event, convinced a jury to find Oakes guilty.

Story: A boot, a knife, a murder and a Cree woman’s claim of innocence

Scott, who also pleaded guilty to the killing, has since changed her story and now says in a sealed affidavit that Oakes wasn’t at the trailer when Armstrong was killed. She is also trying to have her guilty plea quashed.

Scott alleges she was fed evidence by Medicine Hat police while she was stoned during coercive interrogation sessions that lasted six months longer than was disclosed to Oakes’ defence lawyer. Scott initially accused three other people of the murder before naming Oakes.

During the hearing, Crown prosecutor Brian Graff said Medicine Hat police conducted their own internal investigation into Scott’s allegations and concluded in a “preliminary report” its officers did nothing wrong. The Medicine Hat police’s initial investigation essentially entailed questioning the three officers named by Scott who all denied the allegations.

Graff told O’Ferrall he expected “further steps” in an examination of the police’s actions that would likely result in a police commission hearing.

Under Alberta law, police commissions comprise of citizens and elected politicians who oversee local police departments.

Story: Police fed information to stoned Crown witness to build murder case against Cree woman: Court docs

Graff, however, opposed bail for Oakes’ citing her criminal record which showed 14 failure to appears and nine breaches of conditions. He said the $5,400 put up by Oakes’ family and her Nekaneet First Nation band, was not enough for bail and suggested it should be at least $10,000. He also said the fact Oakes’ son, Joseph Oakes, 24, could die within weeks of cancer should not factor into the judge’s decision on whether Oakes gets appeal bail.

“Bail is not designed to address these particular situations, it can only be addressed through some temporary absence,” said Graff.

Oakes lawyer Alexandra Seaman told O’Ferrall that the $5,400 put up by the family and Oakes’ band is “meaningful” because of their limited means. Seaman said Oakes has turned her life around and that she was willing to abide by whatever conditions the court should impose on her release. If released, Oakes would be living on a farm with her 72-year-old mother Margaret Oakes and two sons, Jared and Joseph, who is the father of two year-old child. Margaret Oakes is also taking care of seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“It is my hope that, while I am there, I am able to spend my son’s final days with him and assist in any way possible during his treatment,” said Oakes, in an affidavit filed as part of her appeal bail application. “I also intend to assist my elderly mother with care of the young children and grand-children in our familial home.”

In her affidavit, Oakes said she has earned “the designation with the highest institutional privileges” at federal Edmonton Institution for Women. She works in the kitchen and in sewing and alterations. She also has garbage, recycling, maintenance and snow removal duties at the prison. Oakes has also served as an Elder’s helper and fire keeper for sweat lodge ceremonies.

Nekaneet First Nation Chief Jordi Fourhorns submitted a letter in support of having Oakes return to the community, which sits in southern Saskatchewan nestled in the Cypress Hills near the Alberta border.

“I am in support of her returning back to her home community,” wrote Fourhorns, in a letter filed in court. “Her family home on Nekaneet will welcome her as she is very much needed to assist her mother, Margaret Oakes in helping her raise Connie’s son Jared and assist with her older son Joe, who is fighting cancer.”

According to Dr. Mohammed Elemary, from the Saskatoon Cancer Centre, Joseph Oakes, was initially diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma on Sept. 5, 2014, which appeared to have cleared by February. The cancer returned in April.

“Joe declined any aggressive treatment and he decided to take palliative treatment,” wrote Elemary, in a letter filed with Oakes’ appeal bail application. “The patient understands the dismal prognosis of his disease, especially with this rapid relapse and the decline in aggressive therapy.”

The National Parole Board denied Oakes’ compassionate leave application on Tuesday, Oakes told APTN National News in a telephone conversation following the hearing.

“I have no trust in the system,” said Oakes, during the telephone conversation.

Oakes’ appeal hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12 in Calgary.

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