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Families of victims of serial killer push for landfill search as trial concludes

WINNIPEG — Dozens of people, many clad in red, held hands as they formed a round dance on the streets outside of Winnipeg's law courts on the concluding day of the trial of an admitted serial killer.
Lawyer Leonard Tailleur, centre, lawyer for accused serial killer Jeremy Skibicki, enters the Manitoba Law Courts for the trial of Skibicki in Winnipeg on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — Dozens of people, many clad in red, held hands as they formed a round dance on the streets outside of Winnipeg's law courts on the concluding day of the trial of an admitted serial killer.

At the centre of the circle, a group of women, including the sister of one of Jeremy Skibicki's victims, stood together as they drummed and sang. The daughter of another victim carried a shovel painted red with the words Search The Land Fill drawn on it.

The families made it clear that although Skibicki's trial has wrapped up, their fight to bring home their loved ones is not over.

"My cousin needs to come home. It's been over two years. I don't even know why we're still sitting here anymore," Melissa Robinson, cousin of Morgan Harris, told media Monday afternoon.

Skibicki, 37, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, 39, and three other Indigenous women: Rebecca Contois, 24; Marcedes Myran, 26; and an unidentified woman an Indigenous grassroots community has named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

His lawyers have admitted he carried out the slayings but argue he should be found not criminally responsible. A forensic psychiatrist for the defence testified Skibicki was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the killings.

The killings came to light after the partial remains of Contois were found in a garbage bin in Skibicki's neighbourhood in May 2022. More of her remains were discovered at a city-run landfill the following month.

The remains of Harris and Myran are believed to be at a different landfill. It's not known where Buffalo Woman's remains are located.

The case drew global attention after police announced they would not be searching the privately run Prairie Green landfill for Harris and Myran's remains, citing safety concerns due to toxic materials. This led the two families to take their fight to Parliament Hill and the steps of Manitoba's legislature.

The provincial and federal governments each committed to providing $20 million to fund the search of the landfill in March following months of pushback from the families and supporters across the country.

While families called for movement for the search outside the courtroom, lawyers inside provided final submissions to Manitoba Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and a packed gallery of family members and supporters donning ribbon skirts.

"Delusions are driving a lot of what (Skibicki) is doing," defence lawyer Leonard Tailleur told the trial.

Court has heard Skibicki told defence witness Dr. Sohom Das that he felt compelled to kill the women because he was on a mission from God and heard auditory hallucinations coaxing him to kill.

Das testified that, in his assessment, Skibicki knew what he was doing at the time was legally wrong but lacked the capacity to know it was morally wrong.

Prosecutors argued the opposite, presenting DNA, video surveillance and witness evidence to assert Skibicki had the mental capacity and awareness to commit and cover up the killings.

They characterized the killings as racially motivated and said Skibicki preyed on the women at homeless shelters before committing "vile, sexual acts" on the bodies.

The Crown put forward a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, who told court he believes Skibicki was driven to kill the women because he suffers from paraphilic, homicidal necrophilia disorder. People with the rare disorder, he said, get aroused by having sex with someone they've killed.

Chaimowitz also said Skibicki knew the killings were wrong.

Prosecutor Renee Lagimodiere said Skibicki’s desire for power and control was intertwined in all four killings.

"This is an individual that doesn’t have schizophrenia. That’s the end of it," said Lagimodiere.

Harris's daughter, Cambria Harris, said listening to the gruesome horror of her mother's death was one of the hardest moments she has had to live through.

"I thought she had to hide from the demons in her head but she had to hide from monsters on the street that targeted her that claimed to have schizophrenia."

Court also heard Skibicki’s computer included online searches for garbage pickup times and other forensic information.

There was also a computer search for "definition of a serial killer."

Prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft told court he has an answer.

"The answer, Mr. Skibicki, is you."

A spokesperson for the Contois family told reporters the family has gone through a long journey filled with grief and pain.

"After today and after the verdict has been reached, it doesn't stop there ... this will be forever," said Travis Barsy.

Following the submissions, Robinson said if Joyal finds Skibicki guilty of first-degree murder, it will send a message.

"To show this country that it stops here. That our women are not garbage. They will not be thrown in landfills. We will not tolerate it anymore."

The Harris family said after weeks of not hearing from the provincial government about next steps on the landfill search, they have a meeting with Premier Wab Kinew this week.

Kinew was questioned about the search at a separate event Monday where he said the province will have a "significant" announcement to make after meeting with the families.

Joyal is expected to deliver his verdict on July 11.

The federal government has a support line for those affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness Helpline, with support in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The 91ԭ Press was first published June 10, 2024.

Brittany Hobson, The 91ԭ Press