Verdict in unusual trial of confessed Winnipeg serial killer to be delivered Thursday

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

The fate of a Winnipeg man who confessed to killing four women but denies criminal responsibility will be decided Thursday after an unusual trial for the confessed serial killer.

Jeremy Skibicki’s lawyers argued that he was driven by delusions related to schizophrenia and hearing voices that made him believe he was on a mission from God, which prevented him from realizing that his actions were morally reprehensible when he murdered the women within a two-month period in 2022.

Prosecutors, however, said Skibicki knew what he was doing. They alleged he targeted vulnerable Indigenous women in Winnipeg homeless shelters before committing four deliberate and racially motivated murders.

Brandon Trask, an assistant professor of mental health and criminal justice at the University of Manitoba, said the case will likely “make it clear where the line is” for situations in which mental health concerns are “so extreme” that someone doesn’t know what they’re doing or whether it’s wrong.

Skibicki has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, 24, Morgan Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, and an unidentified woman. Community leaders have named her as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. Police have said they believe she was Indigenous and in her 20s.

Contois was a member of the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, also known as Crane River. Harris and Myran were both members of the Long Plain First Nation. All four women were murdered in Winnipeg between mid-March and mid-May 2022.

WATCH | Winnipeg serial killer seen with victim in shelter before she died:

Winnipeg serial killer seen with victim in shelter before she died

Surveillance footage presented as evidence at Jeremy Skibicki’s first-degree murder trial shows him eating with Morgan Harris at a Winnipeg shelter before she died. Harris was one of four women Skibicki later admitted to killing. His lawyers argue that he should not be held criminally liable because of a mental disorder.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench is expected to deliver his ruling at 10 a.m. after hearing weeks of evidence in the high-profile trial, which took place in May and early June.

These included surveillance footage, DNA evidence, computer history, testimony from Skibicki’s ex-wife, and messages and letters he sent after the murders.

There was also a videotaped police confession from 2022 in which Skibicki surprised officers by suddenly admitting that he had killed all four women, performed sex acts on their bodies and dumped their remains in trash bins near his North Kildonan apartment.

Both the prosecution and the defense brought in psychiatric experts to evaluate Skibicki. An expert from the prosecution testified he believed that the accused had made up his delusionsand that Skibicki was in reality driven by racism and murderous necrophilia, or by the need to have sex with the people he murdered.

What if he is not found criminally liable?

Under the Canadian Criminal Code, there is a rare ruling in which a person is not criminally liable. requires two criteria: that someone had a mental disorder at the time of committing a crime, which meant that he was unable to realise what he was doing or that it was wrong.

If the judge finds this proven in this case, Skibicki will be submitted to the Commission for the Assessment of the Criminal Code.

Most people in that situation end up in a secure psychiatric facility. And generally, the more serious the crime, the higher the level of security, says Anita Szigeti, a veteran mental health lawyer in Toronto.

These restrictions may be relaxed over time as the risk a person poses to society decreases as a result of treatment. A person may also be discharged entirely if the assessment committee determines that he or she no longer poses a significant risk to society.

But in the cases where that does happen, it generally takes years, according to Szigeti, and it’s far from a “get out of here” ticket.

WATCH | What does it mean when someone is found not criminally liable in a lawsuit?

What does it mean if someone is found not criminally liable in a court case?

The defence team in the trial of Jeremy Skibicki is arguing in a Winnipeg courtroom this week that he should be found not criminally responsible. But what does that mean, and what are the consequences for the accused? CBC reporter Caitlyn Gowriluk explains.

“This is a rigorous, secure system that places a lot of burdens on the accused for a long time, and it’s a tough road for them. The public needs to have confidence that the system, generally speaking, is working as intended,” she said.

However, given some of the details in Skibicki’s case – including the fact that he has admitted to killing the women over a long period of time – Szigeti said it would be “highly atypical” if he were not found criminally responsible.

What if he is convicted of murder?

If the judge finds Skibicki responsible for the murders and convicts him of first-degree murder, he automatically faces life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

That period is the same regardless of the number of murders he is convicted of, after a 2022 Supreme Court rulingaccording to law professor Trask.

A sketch of a courtroom shows a bald, beard-bearded man in the dock, with a sheriff in a chair to one side of him and his lawyers on the other. A judge listens from the bench in front of them.
A courtroom sketch shows Jeremy Skibicki sitting silently in the dock next to his lawyers during a hearing on April 29. (James Culleton)

There are other possibilities in this case, though they seem less likely, Trask said. They include Skibicki being found guilty of a lesser offense, such as second-degree murder, or being found not criminally responsible for some of the killings but not others.

But given the evidence presented at trial, Trask said it appears most likely that Skibicki will be found guilty of first-degree murder or not criminally responsible on all counts.

And because the trial was heard by a single judge instead of a jury, anyone waiting for the verdict can read the reasons behind the verdict, rather than speculating about a jury’s reasoning, Trask said.

“I think this will be really, really helpful for the community moving forward, honestly,” he said.

According to Trask, the prosecution or defense attorneys may also seek an opportunity to appeal the verdict based on those written reasons, depending on the outcome.

Support is available for anyone affected by these reports and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Direct emotional support and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a national hotline at 1-844-413-6649.

You can also access through the Canadian government: health support services such as mental health care, community-based support, and cultural services, and some travel expenses to visit elders and traditional healers. Family members seeking information about a missing or murdered loved one can access Family Information Liaison Units.

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