Jury finds Overby guilty of second-degree murder in Christine Wood slaying
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/05/2019 (1365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Minutes after a jury declared their daughter’s killer guilty of second-degree murder, George and Melinda Wood stood on the Winnipeg courthouse steps and thanked a city that searched for her, a community that kept her memory alive, and the police and prosecutors who brought a murderer to justice.
“Our daughter, Christine, got justice today. That’s all we were hoping for — I know it’s not going to bring her back. And I’m very glad to see, to hear that she has always been loved,” George Wood told reporters. “The whole country, I could say, has shown their love towards our daughter.”
The jury tasked with hearing details of 21-year-old Christine Wood’s violent death took less than two hours Wednesday to decide Brett Ronald Overby, 32, was guilty of murder. His defence lawyers had argued for the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Overby met Wood via the online dating website Plenty of Fish on the evening of Aug. 19, 2016. Roughly four hours later, the woman from Bunibonibee Cree Nation was dead.
Wood was “slaughtered” in the basement of Overby’s Burrows Avenue home in Winnipeg’s North End in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016, prosecutors told the jury this week. Her injuries were “worse than any horror movie imaginable,” Crown attorney Brent Davidson said.
Overby testified he didn’t remember killing Wood.
He now faces an automatic life sentence, with a minimum of 10 years to serve behind bars before he’s eligible for parole.
Five jurors recommended he serve the minimum 10-year parole ineligibility; three recommended 15 years; three others recommended 12, 21 and 23 years, respectively. One juror on the nine-men, three-women panel offered no recommendation.
Wood’s family and supporters uttered hushed cheers and hugged in the courtroom gallery as the jury foreman announced the verdict. They’re expected to deliver victim-impact statements when Overby is sentenced July 2.
Overby didn’t react when he heard the verdict.
Members of his family were seated behind the prisoner’s box in the gallery. He had been lying to them, they heard during the trial. For more than a year, through the 10 months after Wood was reported missing, in the lead-up to his arrest and even after the court process began, Overby claimed he had never met Wood.
Former Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak grand chief Sheila North, a relative of Wood’s, said she had a brief conversation with Overby’s family in the courtroom and wished them well.
“I feel sorry for his parents, too, because he lied to them, too,” she told reporters. “Some of us had a chance to wish them well, because I know that there’s more than one family that’s been hurt.”
The outcome of the case, and seeing how Wood’s parents coped with it, gave North hope for the families of other missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
“They’ve been so strong,” she said. “It made a huge difference, because I think Melinda and George were so trusting, and they let people in that wanted to help… In other cases we hear, people are so closed and (guarded), because they’re so scared.”
When he testified Monday, Overby, a manual laborer for a construction company, told the jury he hadn’t wanted to hurt Wood. He said he “snapped” and “blacked out,” and only remembered seeing her face-down in her own blood on his basement floor after she was already dead.
He claimed he didn’t remember inflicting a series of stab wounds, slitting her throat or breaking her leg.
Defence lawyers Sarah Inness and MacKenzie Cheater argued Overby should be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter because he didn’t have the intent to commit murder.
Crown prosecutors argued Overby only admitted he killed Wood when faced with insurmountable evidence. He only claimed not to remember the killing, Davidson said Tuesday, as an attempt to avoid a murder conviction.
On Wednesday morning, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin instructed the jury to consider Overby’s state of mind at the time of the killing.
It was up to the jury to decide how much they believed of Overby’s version of events, how much his intoxication and anger could have factored in, and whether an ordinary person in Overby’s shoes would have lost their ability to react rationally. Jurors were also instructed to consider what Overby did immediately after Wood’s death.
“He was able to think through a plan,” Martin told the jury.
Overby wrapped Wood’s body in plastic, used duct tape to secure garbage bags around her head and feet, and carried her upstairs from the basement. He put her in the bed of his pickup truck and drove to a farmer’s field in the Rural Municipality of Springfield, where he buried Wood in a shallow grave.
He took the battery out of her cellphone and got rid of it on a nearby property. He used bleach and a mop to scrub away her blood from his basement, and he kept her purse along with his own bloody clothes in a trash bag in the crawl space, later throwing them out.
Overby maintained his innocence after his arrest for murder on March 22, 2017. He was first questioned by missing-persons investigators in January — about five months after Wood’s disappearance — after Winnipeg police learned the 21-year-old had used Overby’s HTC smartphone and wireless home internet connection to send her final Facebook messages.
At the time, Overby was a person of interest in the investigation, not a suspect. He claimed he had never met Wood and said he didn’t recognize any photos of her, including a selfie she had taken earlier on the same night they met.
Wood’s family and supporters were present throughout the trial, which began April 30 and featured testimony from both of her parents, Winnipeg Police Service investigators, Overby’s ex-common-law partner, and the farmer who discovered the body.
Over the course of the trial, Overby’s defence included introducing evidence Wood was “unpredictable,” prone to violence, and was struggling with a drug addiction after she left her remote First Nations community to attend business administration courses at the University of Winnipeg.
While Wood’s family and friends combed city streets looking for her and issued several public pleas for help during the 10 months before her remains were discovered, Overby deleted his Plenty of Fish profile and created a new one, writing on it he could be “your best friend or your worst enemy.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 2:38 PM CDT: Adds photo
Updated on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 6:04 PM CDT: Full write through