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Packed courtroom as Derksen murder trial begins

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A high-profile trial began Thursday into the "cold case" killing of a Winnipeg teenager.

Mark Edwart Grant, 47, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder for the 1984 death of 13-year-old Candace Derksen.

Grant wasn't arrested until 2007 after DNA found at the crime scene was linked to him through advanced testing techniques.

Derksen was allegedly grabbed off the street on Nov. 30, 1984, bound with rope and left to freeze to death inside a shed. Her body was found on Jan. 17, 1985, following an exhaustive search that included hundreds of volunteers.

The Crown presented a brief opening statement to the seven-man, five-woman jury on Thursday, outlining the evidence they plan to call over the next six weeks.

"The charge is serious. But the evidence is fairly straightforward," said prosecutor Mike Himmelman. "Because she died in the course of being forcibly confined, the charge is first-degree murder."

Dozens of witnesses will be called, including numerous forensic experts and many retired police officers who worked on the original investigation. Grant's six maternal siblings will also take the witness stand, jurors were told.

Three pubic hairs were found on or near Derksen's body, although police have said she wasn't sexually assaulted. Four scalp hairs that appeared to have been lightly bleached near the roots were on Derksen's clothing. Police weren't able to test the hairs for DNA until technology improved in 1993. By that time, police were looking at a dangerous sex offender as a potential suspect in what proved to be a false lead. The Derksen case would gather dust for the next six years.

Police took another crack at DNA testing in 2001 -- but no known profiles were obtained.

In 2006, police learned a private Thunder Bay lab had the ability to run more extensive hair-shaft DNA tests. The testing involved identifying the maternal lineage of the subject donor, which is DNA passed from mother to child.

The case began Thursday before a packed courtroom which included Derksen's parents, Cliff and Wilma, along with numerous supporters. Queen's Bench Justice Glenn Joyal gave jurors a series of detailed instructions, telling them to only focus on the evidence presented in the courtroom.

 www.mikeoncrime.com

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