A Manitoba cold-case mystery has taken a major step forward in the justice system -- but the move means the high-profile prosecution will remain shrouded in secrecy for now.
Christopher Robin Shewchuk appeared in a Winnipeg courtroom Wednesday where he was expected to begin a preliminary hearing for allegedly killing a carnival worker in 2003. Instead, the 30-year-old agreed to bypass the procedure and go directly to trial on a charge of first-degree murder. That means the Crown is not forced to publicly present any of its evidence at this time.
Defence lawyer Jeff Gindin told court there are clearly sufficient grounds to move the case to trial, which is the typical test required at a preliminary hearing.
"We have examined all the evidence in great detail. There wouldn't be much point going through a preliminary," said Gindin. He said much of the case is built on police evidence, including wiretaps. If convicted, Shewchuk would face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. No dates have been set and Shewchuk remains in custody without bail.
Derek Kembel, 24, was last seen leaving a Dauphin bar on Feb. 28, 2003. His body has never been found. Sources have previously told the Free Press police used a "Mr. Big" undercover sting operation to break open the case in 2010.
At the time, members of the RCMP's historical-case unit also charged his father, Thomas Ronald Shewchuk, 60, with accessory to murder after the fact. However, court documents the Free Press obtained on Wednesday show the Crown stayed that charge, without explanation, several months ago.
In a Mr. Big sting, the plan is simple: Gain the trust of your main target by surrounding him with undercover police officers playing the roles of shady members of a criminal organization. Eventually, police hope to make the suspect comfortable enough he confesses to his crime, believing it's the only way to success. Police see the stings as a costly last resort to bring a suspected killer to justice.