WARNING: The details in this article may be disturbing to some viewers. Discretion is advised.
The lawyer representing a Winnipeg man accused of killing four Indigenous women says his client ‘absolutely’ maintains his innocence and intends to plead not guilty.
Two sheriffs led Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki into a Manitoba Court of King’s Bench courtroom Friday afternoon, his hands and feet chained.
The 35-year-old is accused of killing four Indigenous women between March and May of this year.
Friends and family members of the victims sat in the courtroom as Skibicki was directly indicted on four counts of first-degree murder. A direct indictment means the case goes straight to trial without a preliminary hearing.
‘A TYPE OF GRIEF NEVER EXPERIENCED BEFORE’: VICTIM’S FAMILY
Winnipeg police began the investigation in May after the partial remains of Rebecca Contois, 24, were found near an apartment building in the 200 block of Edison Avenue.
Police identified three more victims during a news conference on Thursday.
Morgan Beatrice Harris, 39, is believed to have been killed around May 1, and Marcedes Myran, 26, is believed to have been killed around May 4. Both women were members of the Long Plain First Nation.
One woman, who has not yet been identified but has been described as an Indigenous woman in her mid-20s with an average build, is believed to have been killed around March 15, 2022.
A statement from Contois’ family says they have experienced paralyzing grief.
“I don’t think we have ever cried buckets of tears, painful wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-anxiety, a type of grief never experienced before, deep, deep sadness,” they said. “The last couple of months have been incredibly exhausting.”
The family said they are sharing their deepest condolences with the families of the other victims.
‘THEY DESERVE TO BE KNOWN:’ DAUGHTER OF VICTIM CALLS FOR ACTION
Morgan Harris was reported missing on May 1, and was last seen in the area of Main Street and Henry Avenue. Her daughter, 21-year-old Cambria Harris, said she was utterly shocked to hear what had happened to her mom.
“I’m really saddened to hear that my mom was taken in such a savage and gruesome way,” she said.
Leafing through family photographs with her own young daughter in the next room, Harris reflected on her mother’s life.
”Everyone knew who my mother was,” she said. “There wasn’t a single person when we were searching for her – no one had a bad thing to say. Everyone knew her.”
Harris says her mother was homeless and had fallen on hard times, but she wants her mother to be known for more than how she died. She says Morgan was known for her kindness.Cambria said her mother was an amazing woman with a bright soul who had been seeking help to deal with her addictions.
“My mom had fallen on hard times. She was homeless and I guess someone saw that and took advantage of her and took advantage of a vulnerable person.”
Cambria said there needs to be more action to stop this from happening again.
“We need to start protecting our vulnerable youth and our vulnerable women – specifically Indigenous because that is the highest rate of who is at risk right now,” she said.
“I think it is really important to speak up because as a young Indigenous woman like myself, I shouldn’t have to fear going outside, and I shouldn’t have to fear having to catch the bus before 6 o’clock so that it is not night-time. I shouldn’t have to worry about not being able to leave my house just to go across the street to the store past 8.”
She said the four women, and all missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, are more than just victims.
“Those are mothers, those are aunties, those are families, and they deserve to be known as that and not just as another picture on a missing persons’ poster.”
POLICE SAY VICTIMS’ REMAINS ‘LIKELY’ IN LANDFILL, BUT ARE NOT ABLE TO SEARCH IT
Shortly after Contois’ partial remains were found near the apartment on Edison Avenue, police found additional remains at the Brady Landfill.
The remains of Harris, Myran, and the unidentified woman have not been found.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said investigators believe it is likely the remains of the other victims are in the landfill, but police won’t be able to search the site.
“The reality is we are talking about a 50-plus-acre site with layers and layers of refuse. We wouldn’t know where to begin. We are not in a position to search the whole site,” Smyth said.
He said he understands the need for closure from the families of the victims.
“I would want the remains of my loved ones as well,” he said. “We just have no ability to know where that is and where to commence that search. It is not a feasible operation.”
LAWYER SAYS NOT-GUILTY PLEAS ARE ANTICIPATED
Outside the law courts building on Friday, Skibicki’s lawyer Leonard Tailleur told reporters his client ‘absolutely’ maintains his innocence.
He said it will be a while before they enter an official plea due to the amount of evidence disclosure provided by the provincial Crown, but he said he anticipates they will be entering a not-guilty plea on all four counts.
The charges against Skibicki have not been proven in court, and he is considered innocent until proven guilty.
Tailleur said with the amount of publicity the case has gotten, there is a concern about his client’s presumption of innocence.
“The tendency of people, I speak generally here, is to make assumptions based on assertions that are made in the press or whatever, and that, of course, when they accumulate that becomes potentially a problem,” Tailleur said.
-with files from CTV’s Taylor Brock
There is a support line available for those impacted by missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2S+ people: 1-844-413-6649.
Additional mental-health and community-based emotional support and cultural services are also available through the federal government.