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Winnipeg man accused of killing four women will face jury

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WINNIPEG -

A Winnipeg man accused of killing four Indigenous women will have his trial heard by a jury – despite a second attempt by his defence to have the jury tossed.

On Friday morning, Manitoba Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal dismissed a motion by Jeremy Skibicki’s lawyers to have the quadruple-homicide trial heard by judge alone.

Skibicki is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

He has pleaded not guilty.

While a first-degree murder charge automatically requires a jury trial, Joyal noted an accused can request their case be heard by judge alone, but Crown prosecutors must consent.

In this case, the Crown has not.

Skibicki’s lawyers have argued ‘pervasive’ media coverage in the lead-up to the trial may have led to a bias among jurors, and argued a jury trial would violate Skibicki’s rights to a fair trial.

They pointed to an opinion poll they commissioned, which found a majority of respondents believe Skibicki is guilty and indicated they would find it unacceptable if he were to be found not criminally responsible by way of mental disorder.

The court also heard testimony from a U.S.-based cognitive psychologist who has studied the impact and influence pre-trial publicity can have on a jury’s decision-making ability.

She said once a juror has formed an opinion of guilt based on the media coverage they consumed before the trial, it is unlikely – if not impossible – to change during the trial.

However, in his decision, Joyal disagreed.

“Impartiality as it relates to the judicial system is not understood to mean the jurors do not hold any form of bias, nor does it suggest that jurors are artificially neutral,” Joyal said.

He said it is the responsibility of the judicial system, through instruction to the jury, to cleanse any biases jurors bring with them.

In this case, he said there was rigorous questioning during jury selection, and there will be further instruction to the jurors about their role – to make a finding based on the evidence presented in court alone.

“While it is expected the jurors, much like judges, are shaped by their lived experience including the media they digest,” Joyal said. “In the Canadian judicial system we believe jurors are able to rise to the heightened expectations required of their role in order to ensure a fair trial is provided to the accused person.”

Skibicki’s defence lawyers made a similar push to have the trial proceed without a jury, but that too was dismissed earlier this year.

“We thought our arguments were impeccable… but the lordship made a decision and we'll take it from there,” Leonard Tailleur, one of Skibicki’s defence lawyers said outside the courthouse Friday.

He said this doesn’t change anything going into the trial.

When asked about their plan to argue Skibicki is not criminally responsible for the deaths by way of mental disorder, Tailleur said, “That'll be elucidated further in the trial proper, so we'll leave it at that.”

The jury will begin hearing evidence on May 8.

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