Duress to play key role in murder trial
Crown asks court to closely observe surveillance video
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2022 (281 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg woman charged in the murder of man whose charred remains were found in Portage la Prairie after he was tortured and held captive for several days is expected to claim she was acting under duress, a judge was told Monday.
Chelsea O’Hanley, 26, is on trial charged with first-degree murder, indignity to human remains and accessory to murder after the fact.
Gerhard Reimer-Wiebe, 27, was killed in a Winnipeg home in June 2020, before his body was burned and partially buried on the edge of a field.
In March, 31-year-old Kyle Evan Sinkovits and 27-year-old Jonathan Narvey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, while co-accused Bobbi Lynn Hall, 28, pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact. They are still awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors allege O’Hanley — like her three co-accused — was living in the Alfred Avenue home where Reimer-Wiebe was tortured and killed and had pictures of his dead body on her cellphone. And it was O’Hanley, say prosecutors, who drove her three co-accused and Reimer-Wiebe’s body to Portage la Prairie in her Chevrolet Equinox.
“We understand duress is going to be a key legal issue for you to decide in this case,” Crown attorney Mike Desautels told Queen’s Bench Justice Ken Champagne in an opening address Monday. “The Crown expects Ms. O’Hanley to testify and we expect she will tell you she was under duress by somebody or something. There may be an expert called to explain what was going on medically or psychologically in her mind.”
Audio recordings of O’Hanley’s phone conversations with Narvey, her then boyfriend, while he was in jail discussing pictures found on her phone, as well as security video footage showing the four accused buying snacks, gas and a lighter at a Circle K convenience store prior to burning Reimer-Wiebe’s body, will challenge O’Hanley’s claim she was threatened with harm, Desautels said.
“Duress isn’t about being pressured to do something, about getting your arm twisted, it’s about life-or-death threats to be killed, grievous bodily harm to you or your loved ones,” Desautels said. “We are going to invite you to watch that Circle K video closely, because we say it says a lot about the state of mind and the actions of that woman in the moment around when she says she was under duress.”
While O’Hanley was indicted for first-degree murder, Desautels said the Crown will be seeking a conviction for second-degree murder.
An agreed statement of facts was provided to court when Sinkovits, Narvey and Hall entered their guilty pleas. Court heard then all four accused were living or staying at an Alfred Avenue home in mid-June 2020, when Hall told Sinkovits (her boyfriend) and Narvey (a close friend) she had awakened in bed with Reimer-Wiebe and believed he had sexually assaulted her.
Sinkovits and Narvey held Reimer-Wiebe captive for at least three days, placing a dog collar and leash around his neck and tying him to a chair in the basement. The pair brought Reimer-Wiebe upstairs for food and water and returned him to the basement, where they repeatedly assaulted him before ultimately killing him.
An autopsy showed Reimer-Wiebe suffered an array of injuries, including a fractured tibia, lacerations to his back, a broken hand and major skull trauma.
Photos later found on a cellphone shared by Narvey and O’Hanley showed Narvey standing on Reimer-Wiebe’s body as it lay over tarps in the kitchen.
“I don’t know a less crass way to describe it than a trophy picture of his body,” Desautels said Monday.
According to the agreed statement of facts provided to court in March, sometime on June 19 or 20, 2020, Reimer-Wiebe’s body was wrapped in a tarp and placed in the trunk of O’Hanley’s Equinox. With O’Hanley behind the wheel, the four accused drove 70 kilometres west to Portage la Prairie to dispose of Reimer-Wiebe’s body.
The group stopped at a gas bar, where they stocked up on snacks and filled a jerry can with gas, before heading to the home of one of Hall’s ex-boyfriends.
Once there, they drove onto an adjacent field, unloaded Reimer-Wiebe’s body and used the gas to set it on fire. After some time, the group moved the body to a treed area on the edge of the field and covered it with dirt.
The group returned to Winnipeg where, according to the agreed statement of facts, they found the Alfred Avenue residence engulfed in flames.
Four days later, Hall’s ex-boyfriend’s father called RCMP to report he had found human remains on his property.
Reimer-Wiebe’s blood and DNA was found in the trunk of O’Hanley’s car, Desautels told court Monday.
The trial is set for four weeks.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.