Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sadness, gaps on journey to justice

A day of mixed emotions for girl's bereaved parents

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It was a day they feared might never come. And one they couldn't wait to end.

Such were the mixed emotions experienced Thursday by Cliff and Wilma Derksen, whose 13-year-old daughter, Candace, was abducted and killed in one of Winnipeg's most notorious mysteries.

Now, 26 years later, the couple had a front-row seat as Mark Edward Grant's first-degree murder trial began.

"It was hard today. I lost it in the morning," Wilma said. "It just brings back all the emotion of the day. The horror that Candace would have gone through."

Grant, 47, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. He was arrested in May 2007 based on new DNA examination of evidence collected at the scene.

"Sitting in that courtroom, it just felt real good that justice was happening," Wilma said outside court. "It brought validity to the seriousness of the crime. After all, at one point, they thought this was a prank."

The circumstances of Candace's death have been the subject of numerous rumours over the years. The teen vanished on her way home from school on Nov. 30, 1984, triggering an exhaustive search. Her frozen body was discovered on Jan. 17, 1985, in an industrial shed near the Nairn Avenue overpass. Her hands and legs were tied together behind her back with twine.

The first emotional test for the Derksens came Thursday morning when the Crown prosecutor gave an opening statement, outlining the evidence he expects to call for the next six weeks. Cliff carefully took notes through the proceedings while keeping a close eye on Wilma a few metres away from Grant.

"The charge is serious. But the evidence is fairly straightforward," prosecutor Mike Himmelman said. "She was alive when Grant tied her up. Because she died in the course of being forcibly confined, the charge is first-degree murder."

Candace succumbed to exposure to the elements and jurors viewed several graphic photos Thursday of her body as it was found.

She was wearing a blue winter jacket, hooded sweatshirt, blouse and jeans. She was missing her right running shoe and her sock appeared to have been torn. A bag containing makeup, a clarinet and several school textbooks was also found in the shed.

Retired Winnipeg police officer Ronald Allan told jurors how investigators re-created the circumstances of Candace's death by tying up one officer in a similar fashion.

"He could roll around on his back, front, side... but he was unable to stand up."

Three pubic hairs were found on or near Derksen's body, although police have said she wasn't sexually assaulted. Four scalp hairs that appear to have been lightly bleached near the roots were on Derksen's clothing. Police took a 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.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Many witnesses waiting to testify

 

Dozens of witnesses expect to be called during the next six weeks in what will be a trip down memory lane. They will include:

Many retired police officers who worked on the original investigation.

Former provincial medical examiner Dr. Peter Markesteyn.

Scientists and forensic experts in the field of DNA evidence.

The owner of the storage shed and the employee who found Derksen's body.

Two of Derksen's childhood friends.

A convenience store clerk who was likely the last person to see Derksen alive.

Grant's six maternal siblings, who will give evidence about DNA testing conducted on them.

Police officers who originally interviewed Grant in December 1984, weeks before Derksen's body was found.

The officer who arrested Grant in May 2007.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2011 A4

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