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The jury that will decide whether two men are guilty of manslaughter in the death of 29-year-old Jeanenne Fontaine heard from Crown and defence lawyers for the last time Wednesday as they prepare to deliberate.
Jury members will have to decide if they agree with Crown prosecutors that Christopher Matthew Brass and Jason Michael Meilleur were part of a plan to commit robbery at Fontaine's Winnipeg home the day she was killed, and they should have known someone would likely get hurt in the process. Or, as defence lawyers argued, there are too many gaps in the evidence to prove the Crown's theory beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Crown urged jurors to convict both men, with the defence pressing for acquittals.
After six days of hearing evidence that included testimony from Fontaine's brother and her boyfriend, as well as a viewing of Meilleur's May 2017 video statement to police, prosecutor Michael Desautels told jurors the Crown believes it has proven she was killed during a "botched robbery" Brass and Meilleur participated in as a way to get even for a drug debt Fontaine's boyfriend owed them.
Jurors heard Fontaine was shot in the back of the head inside her home at 457 Aberdeen Ave. on March 14, 2017, and a third man, Malcolm Mitchell, pulled the trigger. The Crown argues Brass and Meilleur should be convicted of manslaughter because they were parties to the robbery that led to the death.
"Brass and Meilleur didn't know what was going on?" Desautels asked the jury rhetorically during his closing arguments. "It was happening right under their noses."
Meilleur's defence lawyer, Theodore Mariash, argued the Crown's robbery theory isn't logical based on the evidence presented.
"The prosecution's reliance on this being a robbery gone wrong does not make sense," he said.
Brass's defence lawyer, Tara Walker, argued there is not enough evidence to prove her client was even present at the house that day. Meilleur named him in his statement to police — but jurors have been told nothing in Meilleur's statement can be used against Brass.
A woman who knew Brass testified during the trial about comments he made in the aftermath of the shooting, but wasn't asked to describe Brass's appearance nor shown the photo of Brass, taken after his arrest, Desautels displayed to the jury Wednesday.
Walker emphasized in her closing arguments that Chuck Fontaine, Jeanenne Fontaine's brother, testified he didn't feel threatened by the three men when they showed up at his door that day, and he didn't believe a robbery was taking place. He testified they asked for Monte, his sister's boyfriend, and one of them talked to his sister in her room.
They didn't demand drugs, money or property, he testified. He said he ran from the house after he saw Mitchell "masked up" and holding a revolver. He said he heard a gunshot and saw Mitchell turning on the stove burner and piling it with clothes.
The home was severely damaged by fire. A forensic pathologist testified Jeanenne Fontaine, who was found inside by first responders, wasn't breathing during the fire, but doctors revived her heart in hospital. She died the next day.
Desautels argued Chuck Fontaine wouldn't have known the legal definition of a robbery nor what it means to be a party to that crime.
The Crown believes Brass matches Chuck Fontaine's description of the man who stood by the front door "watching out," before the shooting and fire. Walker said even if Brass was at the Aberdeen Avenue house that day, it wouldn't have been unusual to stand near the door to wait for Jeanenne's boyfriend to get back, given the limited space in the small bungalow.
Walker told jurors they must believe a robbery was being committed in order to find Brass guilty, and argued the Crown failed to prove "many of the essential elements, if any."
Jeanenne Fontaine is a cousin of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. Tina's body was found weighed down in the Red River in August 2014; her accused killer was acquitted after a trial in 2018.
Mariash told jurors their opinions about Tina's case or the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women are irrelevant in their jury duties.
"It is your job to ensure that someone, namely Jason here, is not unduly convicted," he said.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Gerald Chartier is set to give jurors instructions Friday on how they have to apply the law in this case. After hearing those instructions, the jury will be sequestered to deliberate until it reaches a verdict.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.