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The day after jurors watched a video of Christine Wood's accused killer telling police he had never met her, they saw photos of them together. Brett Overby's arm is around 21-year-old Wood's shoulders in a series of three selfies that appear to have been taken on a cellphone camera. They are both smiling. Wood is wearing the same outfit she had on when her parents last saw her alive.
Overby, 32, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in Wood's August 2016 death. During the second day of his Court of Queen's Bench trial Wednesday, he watched from the prisoner's box as his former common-law partner looked at the photos from the witness stand, went stone-faced, and identified him as the man in the photo.
"They're on my couch," Shirley Houle said. "On the couch that my grandmother gave us."
Houle testified for the prosecution in Overby's murder trial, saying they were in a relationship for nine years until March 1, 2016 and stayed friends until Overby was arrested in March 2017. He was charged with Wood's murder in April 2017, about seven months after the 21-year-old was reported missing. Crown prosecutors believe Wood met Overby on an online dating site and that she was killed inside the home Overby and Houle once shared. Prosecutors are trying to prove their case against him in front of a jury of nine men and three women as the murder trial continues.
A few hours after the prosecution believes Wood was slain in Overby's home on Aug. 20, 2016, Houle phoned her ex-boyfriend. She testified he told her he was tired from going out the night before, but she said he didn't mention anything unusual or make any allegations of having been assaulted. When she visited him at home on Aug. 21, 2016, she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, she testified, except that Overby had laid out a spread of her favourite snacks in an apparent attempt to win her back.
Text messages in which Overby told Houle he didn't know Wood and asked her not to tell police about his Plenty of Fish online dating account were also presented as evidence Wednesday. The texts were sent Feb. 1, 2017, the same day Winnipeg Police Service missing-persons investigators contacted Houle and arranged to interview her on video the next day. She'd already told investigators during that initial conversation that Overby had used Plenty of Fish after they broke up.
-I don't even know who she is' — Accused killer Brett Overby
While answering questions from Crown prosecutor Brent Davidson, Houle confirmed Overby told her he didn't know Wood.
"Did you ever confront Mr. Overby about that?" Davidson asked.
"I think I did," Houle answered, saying she would have asked him at some point after her conversation with police.
"You think you did? Do you remember his response?" Davidson asked.
"Um, not really, no," Houle said.
In the texts to his former girlfriend, Overby allegedly wrote that he was anxious about the police investigation, even though "I didn't do anything." He asked her not to reveal information about him when she spoke to investigators, saying he was "scared cops r (sic) gonna come kick in my door and put me in jail or some s--- for something I didn't even do."
"So please woman," he wrote. "Just say u don't know what I do..or who I hang with or anything."
In what Houle said was a reference to his Plenty of Fish account, Overby added: "U don't know about POF either K?"
When Overby's trial began Tuesday, jurors watched a video of his Jan. 2017 interview with police. He told missing-persons investigators he didn't have anything to do with Wood's disappearance.
"I don't even know who she is," he said at the time.
When Wood's mother Melinda took the stand to testify Tuesday, she was shown the same selfies the jury saw for the first time Wednesday. Tearing up, she identified the young woman as her daughter.
Jurors heard more details Wednesday about the investigative efforts police undertook to obtain phone records that eventually led them to Overby as a murder suspect. Investigators believe Wood was using Overby's cell phone and wireless internet connection to send her last messages in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016. The two men she contacted testified they were cocaine dealers at the time.
One of them, Siu Wong, testified he met Wood a couple of years before her death and would "party" with her. He was questioned by Overby's defence team about Wood's tendency to "snap" and get angry all of a sudden, for no apparent reason. He said he once saw Wood start a fight with another girl. Another time, she got angry at him "out of nowhere," but Wong said he was able to calm her down and wasn't worried about what she might do.
Police never found the HTC smart phone that they allege belonged to Overby during the summer of 2016.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.