December 6, 2019

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Overby defence pushes for manslaughter verdict

Brett Ronald Overby, who told a jury he didn't mean to kill 21-year-old Christine Wood, "will not walk out of this courtroom a free man," his defence lawyer says.

Although Overby admitted he's responsible for the August 2016 homicide, the 32-year-old pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. He's hoping the jury of nine men and three women will agree he didn't intend to kill Wood, whom he met via an online dating website roughly four hours before her violent death.

While prosecutors argued jurors have seen and heard enough evidence to convict Overby of murder — including "the infliction of injuries that are worse than any horror movie imaginable," Crown attorney Brent Davidson said — defence lawyers urged the jury Tuesday to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Earlier this week, Overby told the jury he "blacked out" after Wood lunged at him with a knife and doesn't remember killing her in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016. He said he only recalled seeing her face-down in her own blood on the basement floor of his Burrows Avenue home in Winnipeg's North End.

21-year-old Christine Wood used her mother’s cell phone to take a selfie before she went out for the evening.

SUPPLIED

21-year-old Christine Wood used her mother’s cell phone to take a selfie before she went out for the evening.

Overby testified he wrapped her body in plastic and buried her in a shallow grave in a farmer's field outside the city. Wood's body was found June 1, 2017. When he was interviewed by missing-persons investigators about five months after her disappearance, Overby told police he had never met Wood, and wished them "best of luck finding out what happened to her."

The day after Overby killed Wood, he invited his former girlfriend over to the Burrows Avenue house they once shared and laid out a spread of her favourite fresh fruit and potato chips, jurors heard during the trial. He deleted his Plenty of Fish dating profile the following month, but created a new one within three months.

The way Overby acted after Wood's death doesn't mean he meant to kill her, defence lawyer Sarah Inness said in her closing arguments Tuesday.

"It was a quick reaction with no planning, no foresight, by someone who had consumed a lot of alcohol," she said.

"Christine's prior history of violence towards others — and particularly men, and with Brett that night — doesn't mean she deserved to die. But her violence and unpredictable behaviour provoked a reaction in Brett that led him to kill her."

Christine Wood's body was found June 1, 2017.

SUPPLIED

Christine Wood's body was found June 1, 2017.

Inness argued Overby was provoked when Wood lunged at him twice with a knife and tried to stab him in the neck (according to the version of events he told the jury Monday).

"If Brett Overby was making up a story about what happened, his lack of memory is a strange way to do it," Inness said.

Crown prosecutors argued jurors shouldn't believe Overby's story, saying: "This case is about lies."

"Do you believe that he saved the truth for the 12 of you?" Davidson asked the jury, saying Overby acted and spoke "out of self-preservation."

It "would have been absurd" for Overby to deny killing Wood in the face of all of the evidence the prosecution presented against him, Davidson argued.

Brett Overby's basement at 341 Burrows Ave. during the forensic search. Christine Wood's blood was found on his weight-lifting bench, on the closet door and on a stair step.

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Brett Overby's basement at 341 Burrows Ave. during the forensic search. Christine Wood's blood was found on his weight-lifting bench, on the closet door and on a stair step.

Investigators found her blood in his basement, recovered deleted pictures of them together on his desktop computer, and traced the manufacturer of the plastic her body was wrapped in, finding the same plastic on Overby's property.

None of that would likely have come to light if Wood hadn't used Overby's cellphone or connected to the wireless internet at Overby's house to send her final Facebook messages on the night she was last seen alive, Davidson said. That fact was uncovered after Winnipeg police got a production order and combed through Wood's Facebook records nearly five months after she went missing. It was the first time Overby's name came up in the investigation — a signal of how far he went to cover up his crime, the Crown argued.

He described the 21-year-old from Bunibonibee Cree Nation in northern Manitoba as having been "swallowed up by the city of Winnipeg." She was, he said, "a wisp of a woman" — no match for the brawny Overby.

"Let's be real: Brett Overby meant to kill Christine Wood. He meant for her to die."

Before they begin deliberations, jurors will be given legal instructions by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin, who is expected to focus on the defence of provocation and what the law says about how intoxicated someone has to be before they can't legally have the intent to murder.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Justice reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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