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On the seventh day of the second-degree murder trial for the man accused of killing 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, the jury heard for the first time from people who said they saw the accused with the victim the summer she died.
Tina met Raymond Cormier on a street in Winnipeg's North End one summer night in 2014. It was her boyfriend, Cody Mason, who first approached the much older man, Mason testified Tuesday.
"I was with Tina that day," Mason said. He said Cormier was on a bicycle with a car muffler slung over his shoulder when Mason stopped him on the street "in the middle of the night."
"I told him, 'I got nowhere to go,'" he said.
So began a friendship with Cormier that Crown prosecutors argue resulted in Tina's death. Cormier, now 55, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and is presumed innocent. Tina's body was pulled from the Red River wrapped in a duvet cover on Aug. 17, 2014, nine days after she was last seen.
Much of what the jury heard Tuesday appeared to establish a timeline of Tina's whereabouts on Aug. 8, 2014, the day she was officially last seen alive. Among those who testified were an adult man who picked her up asking if she wanted to party; the police officers who stopped her and then let her go without realizing she'd been reported as a missing person; and the security guard who found her sleeping in a parkade and called 911.
Tina knew Cormier before that day, according to Mason. He was 18 when he met Tina earlier that summer on the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge. Both of them were new to Winnipeg. Mason was medevaced to the city from St. Theresa Point after he was in a car accident that spring. Tina was in the city from Sagkeeng First Nation for what was supposed to have been a week-long visit with her mother. They became boyfriend and girlfriend that summer, Mason testified.
The now-21 year old said Tina stayed with him at his father's place for two weeks. They were selling marijuana to make money, he said. The night they met Cormier — whom they knew as Sebastian — and Mason told him they had nowhere to go, Cormier took them to the basement of a home where they could sleep. Cormier returned in the morning, and gave them money for food, Mason testified.
They saw Cormier at least four times, including drinking beer with him at a home in Glenwood and going with him to get scrap metal, before Mason returned to St. Theresa Point on Aug. 6, 2014, he said.
He recalled a time when he and Tina followed Cormier to a tent Cormier was living in on Alexander Avenue. He said Cormier gave them pills — gabapentin — that Mason and Tina shared. He said he saw Cormier injecting meth inside the tent on the same occasion.
He denied during cross-examination that anyone else but Cormier had given him the pills.
"I got the gabbys from Raymond," he testified.
Mason led homicide investigators to the same tent after Tina was found dead. He testified he never saw or communicated with Tina again after he got back to St. Theresa Point. He found out about her death via Facebook.
Mason agreed when defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn asked if Cormier was nice to him, but he hesitated when asked if Cormier was nice to Tina.
"I don't know about that," Mason said, before adding, "He was."
Another witness, who lived on Selkirk Avenue at the time, told court Tuesday Tina approached him while he was returning home from work around 5 p.m. on a mid-July afternoon.
Andre Lemaitre said two men — a young man Tina said was her boyfriend, and an older man he later recognized as Raymond Cormier — were sitting on the lawn while Tina talked to him. He said she introduced herself as Tina and asked him for a cigarette, and one of the men asked him for a beer from a six-pack he was carrying, he said.
"She explained to me that they were couch surfing, they didn't have a place to stay," Lemaitre testified. He said Tina told him she could sell him some weed.
"If I needed some I could contact her," Lemaitre testified. "She said she would give me a call."
Tina called around 10 p.m. the same night, asking if she could stay with him. He told her no and testified he never heard from her again. The police contacted him as part of their investigation when they found out Tina had phoned him.
His testimony was the first one that linked Tina to Cormier, although he said he wasn't introduced to Cormier that night and only realized who he was from reading news reports after Cormier's arrest.
On the last day Tina was seen alive, she was picked up near Sargent Avenue and Furby Street by a man who asked her if she wanted to go for a ride and party.
Richard Mohammed testified he was looking for "a girl to hang out with," when he drove through the area with the idea of picking up a sex worker around 5 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2014. A young girl got into his truck.
"At that time, I did not know who it was, but I later found out she was Tina Fontaine," he testified. "I wasn't sure how old she was."
He testified he did not have any sexual contact with Tina. Police were following his truck and pulled him over shortly afterward.
Mohammed was arrested for driving with a suspended licence, and his truck was impounded and remained in a towing compound until Aug. 12, 2014.
The two Winnipeg Police Service officers who arrested Mohammed but let Tina go without realizing she was listed as a missing person were suspended as a result of the incident after Tina was found dead nine days later.
They both testified Tuesday as former police officers.
Cornelis Brock Jansen, who was an officer for eight years, was partnered with Craig Houle, a new recruit, during that night shift. After they pulled over Mohammed's truck and arrested him, Houle was tasked with running Tina's name through the cruiser's on-board computer system. She gave police two fake names before she identified herself as Tina Fontaine, they both testified.
She had been reported as a missing person by a group home she was staying at in late July, so her information should have been displayed in the computer system with a red or yellow flag, but the officers didn't notice.
"Do you know how that got missed?" Crown attorney James Ross asked.
"No, I don’t," Jansen testified. "All I can really say is that at the time, my recruit was quite new. I probably could have done a better job overshadowing him. At the same time, I was trying to deal with Mr. Mohammed, who had become quite irate in the backseat. He was yelling and screaming from the backseat and causing quite a distraction there."
Tina hadn't broken the law, and she told officers she was staying at the Quest Hotel, near where officers pulled over the truck on Isabel Street. Jansen said he decided to let her go. He said he asked her if she was OK.
"Just given that she hadn’t actually done anything wrong, we allowed her to go to the Quest... she declined a ride, she didn’t say that she was in any danger," he said.
Houle had only been on the job for about a month. He said he didn't recall seeing an active flag identifying Tina as a missing person.
"She had a previous flag of be on the lookout for a missing person," he said.
Neither officer made any notes on the interaction, including that Tina was only 15. A police narrative of the incident was prepared Aug. 19, 2014, two days after she was found dead.
Jansen was suspended and later resigned from the police force. He now works as a civilian member of the Winnipeg Police Service. Houle was re-instated as a police officer after his suspension but he, too, later resigned from the police force. He was convicted of possession of stolen property and sentenced in January to 18 months of probation as part of a conditional discharge, the jury was told.
A few hours after her run-in with police, a security guard at the Helen Betty Osborne Centre found her unresponsive in a parkade and called 911. First responders roused her and she was taken to hospital around 10 a.m.
Cormier's trial continues throughout this week.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.