Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Guilty plea refused in cold-case homicide

Judge urges defendant to get lawyer

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Manitoba justice officials are refusing to accept a guilty plea from a man accused of a notorious cold-case homicide -- just weeks after he was arrested by a joint task force probing cases of slain and missing aboriginal women.

Traigo Andretti, 38, appeared in a Winnipeg courtroom Monday charged with second-degree murder. He allegedly killed Myrna Letandre in September 2006, then buried her body inside a Point Douglas rooming house. The remains weren't discovered until May 2013 and Andretti wasn't arrested until earlier this month following a lengthy investigation by Project Devote members from the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service.

"I'm aware of all the evidence the prosecution has and I plead guilty to all charges," Andretti told court. The soft-spoken man was brought into the hearing in shackles, escorted by two sheriff's officers, while wearing a navy polo shirt and faded blue jeans. He was sporting a long, scraggly beard.

Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd said Andretti has refused to speak with a lawyer and is choosing to represent himself. A Legal Aid representative tried to meet with him in prison last week but was turned away. The same lawyer, Gary Robinson, then tried to speak with Andretti before court Monday at the downtown Law Courts but had no success.

"It's advisable for him to have counsel. But clearly the court can't force him to do so," said Leinburd.

Provincial court Judge Lee Ann Martin pleaded with Andretti to change his mind. He repeatedly shook his head and muttered "No", saying he will plead guilty and be dealt with on his own terms.

"That's not going to be happening today," said Martin. She ordered a month-long adjournment to give Andretti one more chance to change his mind, along with time to go over a large volume of evidence the Crown will now forward to him.

Andretti insisted his decision is final and said he will again attempt to plead guilty when he returns to court July 28. However, because it is a murder charge the case would have to be heard in Court of Queen's Bench.

The bizarre scene was witnessed by more than a dozen members of Letandre's family, who packed into the tiny courtroom unsure of what was going on. Many of them began crying as Andretti arrived in the room, then admitted responsibility for the slaying.

They left the courthouse following a meeting with Leinburd and declined to comment.

Letandre was 37 when she vanished without a trace. Her name was added to the list of 28 missing and murdered Manitoba women being investigated by Project Devote in 2009.

Police got a major break in the case after Andretti -- a former Winnipeg resident -- was arrested in British Columbia in May 2013 and accused of killing and dismembering his wife, Jennifer McPherson, on a West Coast island only days earlier.

While questioning Andretti about that homicide, B.C. investigators received information about the Letandre case that was forwarded to their Manitoba colleagues. That triggered an extensive search of a Lorne Avenue home in Point Douglas, where Letandre's remains were discovered.

Andretti pleaded guilty in April to first-degree murder in McPherson's death. He acted as his own lawyer in that case and was given an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Project Devote investigators then moved in to complete their investigation of Letandre's death. Andretti was arrested in a B.C. prison and transferred to Manitoba earlier this month to deal with the charge.

Police say Andretti, who also goes by the name Dylan Harold Grubb, had contact with Letandre while they were living in Winnipeg. One source described it as an informal relationship.

RCMP previously stated they believe Letandre may have briefly lived at the Lorne Avenue home where her remains were found, although they wouldn't disclose whether it was with Andretti.

Andretti, who has a form of autism, had previously raised concerns to police and justice officials because he often failed to take his prescription medication. However, no request was made on Monday for any type of psychiatric assessment.

Andretti and McPherson lived at the Lorne Avenue home where Letandre was found before moving west more than five years ago. Family members of McPherson say she met Andretti through a dating website shortly before leaving Manitoba.

Police discovered McPherson's remains scattered on a remote island near Alert Bay, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, last spring. The couple had been living on Hanson Island as caretakers of a remote fishing resort called the Pacific Outback Resort.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2014 A4

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