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Police conducted undercover sting before Cormier's arrest, jury told

With sounds of an accused killer's secretly recorded conversations fresh in jurors' minds, Crown prosecutors have closed their case against Raymond Cormier.

The jury tasked with deciding whether Tina Fontaine's accused killer is guilty won't hear any more evidence from the Crown that might link him to the 15-year-old girl's death. Over the past two and a half weeks, they've heard from 46 witnesses -- Tina's relatives, police, passersby, a former social worker and former youth shelter employee, experts in DNA analysis, autopsy results and toxicology tests, as well as from Cormier's friends -- and, in a videotaped police interview and audio recordings, from the accused himself.

Cormier, 56, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. It will be up to his defence team, lawyers Andrew Synynshyn and Tony Kavanagh, whether they will now put forward their own evidence for the jury. Cormier has repeatedly denied killing her, even when he didn't know homicide investigators were listening.

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With sounds of an accused killer's secretly recorded conversations fresh in jurors' minds, Crown prosecutors have closed their case against Raymond Cormier. 

The jury tasked with deciding whether Tina Fontaine's accused killer is guilty won't hear any more evidence from the Crown that might link him to the 15-year-old girl's death. Over the past two and a half weeks, they've heard from 46 witnesses — Tina's relatives, police, passersby, a former social worker and former youth shelter employee, experts in DNA analysis, autopsy results and toxicology tests, as well as from Cormier's friends — and, in a videotaped police interview and audio recordings, from the accused himself.

Raymond Cormier</p>

Raymond Cormier

Cormier, 56, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. It will be up to his defence team, lawyers Andrew Synynshyn and Tony Kavanagh, whether they will now put forward their own evidence for the jury. Cormier has repeatedly denied killing her, even when he didn't know homicide investigators were listening.

 

In the secret audio recordings, revealed in court for the first time Wednesday, Cormier speaks openly about Tina to several people — including an undercover police officer. He talks about meeting her, having a sexual interest in her, arguing with her and then telling her to "jump off a bridge." None of the recordings contain a confession. He talks about feeling like his "sole purpose" was to find Tina's killer. He also made reference to a "little girl in a f—-n grave," who was screaming at him to "finish the job."

"And guess what," he said during a Nov. 18, 2015 conversation with another young woman who was described as looking similar to Tina. "I finished the job."

His defence lawyer suggested what Cormier actually said, in the context of a conversation in which he angrily brought up a girl in a grave after discovering a naked picture of himself on Facebook, was "I'm finishing the job." But Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit officer Parampreet Sahota stood by the transcript he proof-read after spending about 60 hours listening to the audio.

Police collected 10,000 intercepted conversations from Cormier and spent hundreds of hours listening to them.They were captured via probes or "bugs" police set up in his apartment and via body pack recording devices worn by undercover officers over the course of six months starting in June 2015. In many of the conversations, Cormier speaks quickly, mumbles, and rambles. At one point, after recounting that police considered him a suspect in Tina's homicide, he talked about how he'd like to go back in time and have sex with her despite the fact she was underage.

"If I could reverse time.... I'd say I'm gonna f—- her and I'm gonna f—- her properly and then you can call the cops and put me in jail for the next 10 f—n years," he said.

In a different conversation, Cormier said he believed Tina was killed because he "drew the line" when he found out she was only 15.

"She got killed, I'll make you a bet, she got killed because we found out, I found out, she was 15 years old," he said.

Cormier was a homeless meth addict who befriended Tina during the summer of 2014, after the teen left her home in Sagkeeng First Nation and came to Winnipeg for what was to be a weeklong visit with her mother in the city. Tina never returned to Sagkeeng. When her great-aunt Thelma Favel, the woman who raised her, couldn't find her, she asked police and Child and Family Services for help. Tina was taken into CFS care as of July 17, 2014. A month and four missing persons reports later, she was found dead in the Red River wrapped in a duvet cover.

Details of the Winnipeg Police Service's six-month undercover investigation that focused on Cormier were revealed for the first time in front of the jury Wednesday.

Before he was ultimately charged with her murder, the Winnipeg Police Service planned an undercover operation called Project Styx that secretly recorded Cormier's conversations upon his release from jail on unrelated charges on June 13, 2015.

Police covertly arranged through Manitoba Housing for Cormier to live in a Logan Avenue apartment building when he was released from jail. In it, they set up probes, or "bugs," to record his conversations. They planned 62 different "scenarios" designed to manipulate Cormier and get a reaction from him, including posing a female undercover officer as an unconscious domestic violence assault victim. Another undercover officer, whom Cormier came to know as Mohammed, lived in a suite down the hall and wore a body pack recording device during his conversations with Cormier.

In one of the recordings played in court Wednesday morning, Cormier speaks openly to Mohammed about his arrest for the murder of Tina Fontaine, describing how police grabbed him by the ankles after he ran and tried to hop a fence. He talked about an argument he had with her before she died, in which he said she was upset that he sold her stolen bike and yelled at him about the fact she was homeless.

"My last word, man, f—-n' hurt me and I'll always regret saying well jump off that f—n bridge, then," Cormier told the undercover officer about his conversation with Tina during their argument. "Then when she started complaining about being homeless, I, I, f—n got pissed off and said, I'm homeless too, what the f—- are you trying to say? You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, yeah," the officer responded, according to a transcript filed as a court exhibit.

"What she was trying to say," Cormier continued, "is that she didn't know how to survive homeless. I do."

Cormier was first arrested and questioned as a suspect in the homicide investigation on Oct. 1, 2014 but he wasn't charged at the time. He spent time in jail immediately following that interview on charges of property offences and breach charges. In his conversation with Mohammed in November 2015, Cormier talks about his knowledge of legal terms, including having the "means, opportunity and motive" to commit a crime.

"And I know all this stuff.... So I keep my f—n mouth shut. Nothing," he said. 

"There's three rules in crime. Deny, deny, deny," Cormier said, laughing.

Two undercover officers involved in the investigation, the one who posed as Mohammed and a female officer who told Cormier she was a 19-year-old named Jenna, testified as the recordings were played in court Wednesday morning. The Free Press is not naming them because of their ongoing undercover work.

 The officer who posed as Jenna pretended to be one of Mohammed's girlfriends. She met Cormier three times during the investigation. The second time, she showed up at Mohammed's apartment and banged on the door, screaming for him to come out. Cormier came out of his apartment down the hall and tried to comfort her, telling her to take deep breaths and not to scare the children who lived in the building. 

The third time Cormier saw her, on Oct. 1, 2015, she had been made up to look like Mohammed had assaulted her after a loud argument in his apartment. She was pretending to be unconscious. The officer testified Cormier would have seen her body being carried out of the apartment, put into a truck and driven away by a friend of Mohammed's. He never saw her again. 

The officer who posed as Mohammed testified police wanted to know what reaction Cormier would have to that situation. He said Cormier wasn't told what happened to Jenna. 

"It was left open for him to decide what he wanted to think," he testified. He said he later brought up the incident to Cormier, talking about how he could be arrested if the police found out. No transcript of the incident was provided in court and the officer wasn't asked about what Cormier said in reply. 

Project Styx ended with Cormier's arrest in Vancouver in December 2015. The jury wasn't told why Cormier was in Vancouver, other than that he was brought there by police. 

 katie.may@freepress.mb.ca  

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Read more by Katie May.

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Updated on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 6:47 PM CST: Full write through

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