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'Justice was served': Killer of 4 women in Winnipeg guilty of first-degree murder

Families and supporters of four murdered women celebrate outside the Manitoba Law Courts after the guilty verdict of serial killer Jeremy Skibicki is read in a courtroom in Winnipeg on Thursday, July 11, 2024. Skibicki plead guilty, but not criminally responsible due to mental illness, to the murders of Marcedes Myran, 26, Morgan Harris, 39, and Rebecca Contois, 24 and a fourth, unidentified woman. A judge determined Skibicki is guilty of killing all four women. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — Cheers erupted in a Winnipeg courtroom, spilling out onto downtown streets Thursday, as family members who lost their loved ones at the hands of a serial killer said they had finally received justice.

A judge convicted Jeremy Skibicki of first-degree murder in the 2022 slayings of four women in a case that put another bright spotlight on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Jorden Myran, whose sister Marcedes Myran was killed, said she held back tears when the judge delivered the verdict.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders," she said outside court.

"Justice was served today."

Defence lawyers had argued Skibicki, 37, suffered from schizophrenia at the time of the killings and should be found not criminally responsible.

But Justice Glenn Joyal said he completely agreed with the psychiatrist who testified for Crown prosecutors. The judge said Skibicki didn't have a mental disorder that affected his ability to know that the "shocking" killings were morally wrong.

The judge also acknowledged the pain and suffering relatives and supporters endured attending the weeks-long trial.

Court heard disturbing details about the killings of the women: Myran, 26; Rebecca Contois, 24; Morgan Harris, 39; and an unidentified woman an Indigenous grassroots community has named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Skibicki targeted the women at homeless shelters, then strangled or drowned them. He committed sex acts on their bodies and disposed of their remains in garbage bins.

The killings came to light in May 2022 when a man looking for scrap metal found the partial remains of Contois in a dumpster in Skibicki's neighbourhood. More of her remains were discovered at a city-run landfill the following month.

During a police interrogation, Skibicki admitted to killing Contois and the three other women. He said the killings were racially motivated and cited white supremacist beliefs.

Dr. Sohom Das, a psychiatrist who testified for the defence, said Skibicki felt compelled to kill the women because he was on a mission from God and heard auditory hallucinations coaxing him to kill.

Court heard Skibicki has a history of mental illness, including depression, borderline personality disorder and thoughts of suicide. But he was not previously diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, the psychiatrist for the Crown, testified Skibicki likely has anti-social and substance abuse disorders but did not have an active major mental health disorder at the time of the slayings.

Chaimowitz said he believes Skibicki was driven to kill because of his sexual interest in the dead.

A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. A sentencing hearing, where the families can read statements, was to be set for a later date.

Jeremy Contois, a brother of Contois, said the verdict left him with mixed emotions.

"We hope that it brings closure. It's been a difficult two years."

A sacred fire was lit outside the courthouse, and dozens of supporters later gathered for a round dance at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, the site of other rallies calling for a search for the remains of Myran and Harris.

In 2022, police said they believed the remains of the two women were taken to another landfill outside the city but there would be no search. Police said too much time had passed and it would be too complex and dangerous.

There were countrywide protests demanding a search of the Prairie Green landfill. The federal and Manitoba governments recently committed a combined $40 million for a search, which is expected to start in the fall.

The Harris family tuned in remotely to the verdict from the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Montreal, where chiefs called for an independent inquiry into the police and provincial response to the case.

"We had to fight so hard to put a monster away. We had to fight so hard to bring my mother home," Elle Harris said at a news conference.

Kera Harris, another daughter of Morgan Harris, said the justice system is changing in the way it represents Indigenous women and their families.

"Upon hearing the verdict today, I cried tears of happiness, relief and realization that this is in fact very much real and is a new path in our journey as a family and as Indigenous Peoples."

Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Morgan Harris, said the family has finally achieved the justice they'd been calling for.

"We're elated to hear that that monster will never step foot out of a prison again. And I hope that when he does leave, he is going out in a body bag."

The federal government has a support line for those affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness Helpline, with support in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

— With files from Steve Lambert

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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