Nearly four years after 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was found dead, Crown prosecutors have announced they will not appeal a jury's not-guilty verdict for the man accused of killing her.
Tina's great-aunt, Thelma Favel, was informed of the decision when she met with the Crown Tuesday.
"It's not the news I wanted to hear," she said afterward. "All the systems that were supposed to help Tina failed her, even for her case. Everything failed Tina," Favel said.
"In her whole life, she would never ever have given up. So I'm not going to give up. One way or another, I will get justice for her, in some way."
In a statement, Manitoba Justice said the Crown's office can only appeal a jury's decision if there was a legal error.
"When a jury finds the accused person not guilty, the Crown can only appeal errors on questions of law. After a critical review of the law by the Manitoba Prosecution Service’s appeal unit and the Crown attorneys who prosecuted the case, it has been determined there are no grounds to base a successful appeal of the Raymond Cormier verdict in the death of Tina Fontaine," the statement said.
Raymond Cormier, 56, was acquitted of second-degree murder on Feb. 22 after a three-week trial in Court of Queen's Bench. The jury of seven women and four men — some of whom were visible minorities — deliberated for about 13 hours before reaching their verdict.
The jurors were given legal instructions by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, who explained they had only two legal choices in the case.
If they believed Tina died by an unlawful act Cormier committed, they were to find him guilty. If they didn’t believe Tina died by an unlawful act — the official cause of her death was undetermined — or if they didn’t believe Cormier committed the unlawful act that caused her death, they were to find him not guilty of second-degree murder. The lesser charge of manslaughter was not an option in this case.
The Crown can only appeal a jury's decision if it finds legal errors in the judge's instructions to the jury.
Cormier, a homeless methamphetamine addict, repeatedly denied killing Tina. The Crown's strongest evidence against him were wiretap recordings in which he appeared to confess, saying "I drew the line and that's why she got killed... She got killed, I'll make you a bet, she got killed because we found out, I found out, she was 15 years old."
Cormier did admit he was sexually attracted to Tina. The Crown argued his sexual interest in the underage girl, coupled with his fear she would report him to police over a stolen truck, could have been his motive for murder. In covertly recorded conversations captured during an undercover police investigation, Cormier spoke often about Tina's death. The Crown argued Cormier admitted both to killing her and having sex with her, calling a former prison friend of Cormier's to testify about a conversation in which Cormier allegedly said he "slept with Tina."
Cormier's defence lawyers argued the man had reason to lie because Cormier had previously "ratted" him out. Defence lawyers offered the jury different interpretations of the wiretap evidence, saying Cormier never admitted to having sex with Tina let alone killing her. In a court hearing held in the jury's absence, the defence team tried to have the case thrown out for lack of evidence.
The Crown argued Tina was likely smothered to death or drowned, but her cause of death could not be determined.
There was no DNA or forensic evidence linking Cormier to Tina’s body, even though investigators believed the duvet cover her body was found wrapped in belonged to him. Her body was weighed down with rocks within the duvet cover, which was tied with simple knots. There was no evidence she suffered an assault, a pathologist testified. She likely died between three to seven days before her body was found, but she could have died as little as two days before, or as many as nine days before, according to the pathologist's testimony.
She was pulled from the Red River Aug. 17, 2014, nine days after she was officially last seen.
Cormier was one of the last people to see Tina alive. They met in Winnipeg in the summer of 2014, when Cormier was riding his bicycle down Charles Street and Tina and her teenage boyfriend stopped the much older homeless man and told him they had nowhere to go.
He admitted arguing with her before she died. His last words to Tina, he said on one occassion, were "go jump off a bridge."
Cormier was considered a suspect early in the investigation, and was first arrested and questioned on Oct. 1, 2014. He wasn’t charged, but was jailed on theft and breach charges until June 2015, when the Winnipeg Police Service began a six-month undercover investigation that ended with Cormier’s arrest for second-degree murder in December 2015.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 6:49 PM CDT: Fixes quote