Raymond Cormier has been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine.

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Raymond Cormier has been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine.

The 15-year-old was found dead in the Red River, wrapped in a duvet cover weighed down with rocks, on Aug. 17, 2014. She was reported missing eight days earlier. There was no DNA evidence connecting Cormier to her body.

Emotions were raw after the verdict was read.

Outside the courthouse, MKO Chief Sheila North delivered an emotional address.

Raymond Cormier (left), Tina Fontaine (right)</p>

Raymond Cormier (left), Tina Fontaine (right)

"This is a difficult and tremendously sad day for our people," she said. "This is not the outcome anyone wanted. The system, everything involved in Tina's life, failed her."

North said Tina's primary caregiver, her great-aunt Thelma Favel, is making a plea for peace despite the trial's outcome.

"She doesn't want to see any retaliation," North said. "That's not what our people are about. She wants justice."

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who spoke after North, said Tina's case and verdict have been devastating.

"Our community has been saddened, outraged and devastated as we followed this trial and learned about young Tina’s life. With this decision, justice is denied yet again, and a family and our community mourns again," Dumas said.

Thelma Favel, centre, Tina Fontaine's great-aunt and the woman who raised her, weeps as she enters the law courts in Winnipeg with Chief Kevin Hart and supporters the day the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the second degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier, Thursday, February 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

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Thelma Favel, centre, Tina Fontaine's great-aunt and the woman who raised her, weeps as she enters the law courts in Winnipeg with Chief Kevin Hart and supporters the day the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the second degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier, Thursday, February 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the South Chiefs' Organization Inc. said in a statement the verdict is another contributing factor in the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Manitoba.

"The justice system will not change without us standing together," Daniels said in his statement. "I stand with anyone who is willing to come together, ready to support one another, and to find solutions on the injustices we are facing in the country."

Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said she can't comment on the specifics of the case as there is an appeal period, but she called Tina's death "a horrible tragedy" for all Manitobans.

"My heart is with her family as they continue to grieve the loss of their beautiful 15-year-old girl," Stefanson said in a statement.

"This is not the end of the discussion about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. There have been far too many victims both in our province and across the country. Our government will never give up on our work to end the marginalization and violence that too many Indigenous women and girls experience in Manitoba."

In the courtroom, Tina's birth mother, Tina Duck, swore at Cormier after the verdict was read. "F--- you, you f---er! Just you wait," Duck said as she left.

Left to Right, SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, MKO Grand Chief Sheila North, and Regional AFN Chief Kevin Hart face the media outside the Winnipeg Courthouse Thursday after Raymond Cormier was found not guilty in the death of Tina Fontaine.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Left to Right, SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, MKO Grand Chief Sheila North, and Regional AFN Chief Kevin Hart face the media outside the Winnipeg Courthouse Thursday after Raymond Cormier was found not guilty in the death of Tina Fontaine.

Supporters gathered around Favel in a prayer circle in the courtroom as she cried, "my baby girl, my baby girl."

"They took my baby away from me again, like her life didn't matter."

Tina and Cormier met in the summer of 2014, when Cormier was riding his bicycle down Charles Street and Tina and her teenage boyfriend stopped the much older homeless man and told him they had nowhere to go.

Cormier, now 56, was one of the last people to see Tina alive and admitted to arguing with her before she died. His last words to her, he said, were "go jump off a bridge." He repeatedly denied killing the teen, but Crown prosecutors argued the jury should convict him based on what they said were admissions of guilt in covertly recorded conversations.

He was considered a suspect early on in the investigation and was first arrested and questioned on Oct. 1, 2014. He wasn't charged at the time, but was jailed on a theft and breach charge until June 2015, when the Winnipeg Police Service began a six-month undercover investigation that ended with Cormier's arrest for second degree murder in December 2015.

Tina's death attracted international attention as her death caused a public outcry that renewed calls for an inquiry into disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The federal government launched the independent inquiry in September 2016 and hearings got underway last year, but they were marred by several staff resignations amid complaints from victims’ families about a lack of communication and feeling left out of the process. A deadline for the commissioners’ final report from the national inquiry has been set for the end of this year, but they may ask the federal government for an extension.

An angry MKO Grand Chief Shiela North speaks to media outside the Winnipeg Courthouse Thursday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

An angry MKO Grand Chief Shiela North speaks to media outside the Winnipeg Courthouse Thursday.

The trial before a jury and Chief Justice Glenn Joyal in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench lasted three weeks.

Prior to the jury giving their verdict, Tina's great-aunt entered the packed courtroom sobbing, surrounded by her family and supporters. Joyal urged for for calm and order in the gallery before the verdict was delivered.

In closing arguments to the jury on Tuesday, two versions of the accused killer were presented, as Crown and defence lawyers summed up their theories of the second-degree murder case: Cormier, the "haunted" killer with a guilty conscience who had sex with an underage girl and hurt her because he didn’t want to be known as a pedophile; and Cormier, the "convenient scapegoat," because he was one of the last people to see her alive, left trying to make sense of how and why police suspect him of murder.

"The words he speaks are admissions of murder, plain and simple," Crown prosecutor James Ross told the jury during his closing arguments.

"Mr. Cormier, obsessed with and haunted by what he did, but not knowing the recording device was in his apartment, has revealed himself. Believe what he says, and convict him for what he did."

However, the 56-year-old has maintained his innocence from the beginning, defence lawyer Tony Kavanagh said — and he flat-out denied killing Tina in the same secret recordings the Crown said form the most damning evidence against him.

"Mr. Cormier has indicated that he’s guilty of not protecting her," Kavanagh said, adding "threadbare" evidence doesn’t prove Cormier’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Katie May

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

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