Admitted Winnipeg serial killer’s lawyers tried to get confession thrown out before trial

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Months before a videotaped confession became a key piece of evidence in Jeremy Skibicki’s first-degree murder trial in the deaths of four women, his defence team tried to get the statement he made to Winnipeg police thrown out by a judge.               

Their arguments included claims that Skibicki’s statement wasn’t voluntary because of mental illness — and that police used a controversial technique in their interview that’s been linked to false confessions.

The motion about the police statement was heard during a November 2023 voir dire — a kind of trial within a trial to determine the admissibility of evidence — and was previously under a publication ban. CBC News can now reveal details about it, since the trial, which began hearing evidence on May 8, is no longer being heard by a jury.

Skibicki was interviewed by police in May 2022 during a roughly 20-hour interrogation — parts of which have since been shown as evidence in his trial this month — after he was arrested as a suspect in the killing of Rebecca Contois.

The 24-year-old’s partial remains had been discovered a day earlier in garbage bins around Skibicki’s apartment in northeast Winnipeg.

During his police interview, Skibicki not only admitted to killing Contois, but also unexpectedly confessed he’d killed three other women, whose deaths police didn’t know about.

He’s now on trial in Manitoba Court of King’s Bench for first-degree murder in the deaths of three First Nations women — Contois, Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26 — as well as the death of the as-yet-unidentified woman given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by community leaders. Investigators believe she was Indigenous and in her 20s when she died.

Skibicki, 37, has admitted to killing them but pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say they plan to argue that while their client admits to killing all four women, he should be found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder. 

‘God’s not going to save you’

The video of his May 2022 police interview also showed Skibicki asking several times to see an Orthodox priest to “confess [his] sins,” including once right before he admitted to killing the women.

“God’s not going to save you,” a woman yelled at him from the gallery one day during the November voir dire, after portions of the interview video were played in court.

Family members of the women Skibicki has admitted to killing and their supporters were jubilant in the packed courtroom later during that hearing, after learning the judge would allow the statement to be used as evidence against the confessed serial killer in his trial.

The faces of three First Nations women are pictured side by side.
Left to right: Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and Rebecca Contois. Skibicki is on trial for the deaths of all three women, as well as an unidentified woman given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. (Submitted by Winnipeg Police Service and Darryl Contois)

“You’ll reap what you’ve sown, Jeremy,” a man in the gallery bellowed out, as people rose to their feet and applauded in a courtroom adorned with Indigenous cultural items — from coloured ties on each wall representing the four directions, to a buffalo headdress on display in honour of Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe.

Prosecutors have argued the women’s deaths were intentional and racially motivated, and that Skibicki preyed on vulnerable Indigenous women at Winnipeg homeless shelters before killing them and throwing out their remains.

While more of Contois’s remains were later found in a Winnipeg landfill and Harris’s and Myran’s are believed to be in another landfill outside the city, police have not said where they believe the unidentified woman’s remains are.

Involuntary statement: defence

Part of the argument Skibicki’s lawyers made to try to get his confession thrown out was that he didn’t have the cognitive ability to understand what he was saying when he confessed — or what’s known as an “operating mind.”

That claim was related to the fact that Skibicki told police during the interview he’d been diagnosed with borderline personality and post-traumatic stress disorders, and had struggled with addictions to methamphetamine and ecstasy.

His lawyers also alleged that police led him to believe if he confessed, they would fulfil his repeated request to see a priest.

The lawyers additionally highlighted aspects of the interrogation itself, from a delay in getting Skibicki food to a lack of furniture like a mattress available in the room during the 20-plus hour interview, which they argued created an atmosphere of “oppression” — all of which made the statement involuntary, the defence argues.

Defence lawyers also alleged there were several violations of Skibicki’s Charter rights and other procedures during the interview. Those include the defence’s claim he wasn’t properly informed of his right to speak with a lawyer when he admitted to the three offences beyond killing Contois.

Court of King’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal ultimately ended up dismissing those arguments, finding Skibicki “at no point suggested” in his police interrogation that his mental health caused him to lack an operating mind — and in fact, said the accused maintained “quite the opposite” and seemed aware of what his diagnoses meant. 

A side profile of a bald man.
A police photograph taken of Jeremy Skibicki in custody. Skibicki’s roughly 20-hour interrogation, parts of which have since been shown as evidence in his trial this month, began after police arrested him in May 2022 as a suspect in the killing of Rebecca Contois. (Manitoba Court of King’s Bench)

The judge also said prosecutors had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the other issues the defence raised weren’t enough to make the statement involuntary, and noted the evidence indicated Skibicki understood the rights as explained to him by police and was “advised at the appropriate moment” of his right to speak with a lawyer.

Controversial interview technique: defence

Skibicki’s lawyers also argued that police interrogated him using elements of what’s known as the Reid technique — a controversial method that’s been linked to false confessions.

That technique includes using long monologues to control the direction of an interview and dragging out the interrogation to exhaust the accused, making them feel they’re in a stressful situation, defence lawyer Leonard Tailleur told court during the pretrial motion in November.

But one of the officers who interrogated Skibicki and testified during pretrial said any long monologues during the interview tended to come from the accused, who shared details about his childhood,  and his struggles with addiction and his relationship with his family before confessing.

WATCH | Court hears video evidence of Skibicki’s confession to Winnipeg police:

Court hears video evidence of Jeremy Skibicki’s confession to Winnipeg police

17 days ago

Duration 2:59

The lengthy police interrogation video of Jeremy Skibicki has been released. The 37-year-old is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of three First Nations women, and a fourth woman who has not been identified but who police believe was Indigenous. WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

“I think the nature of being under arrest for murder is stressful enough. I can tell you I have no interest in dragging the interview out,” Det. Greg Allan told court in November, adding he doesn’t use the Reid technique because it’s “problematic.”

“I had been up for 36 hours. At the point where Mr. Skibicki confessed, I had been at work for 22 hours.”

Cross-examination on that issue at times got heated, with the judge at one point urging Tailleur to be “courteous” to a witness, as the defence lawyer and the officers who interviewed Skibicki pushed back on each others’ assertions about exactly what strategies were intentionally used during the interview. 

Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft later argued none of what happened in the interview had anything to do with the “so-called Reid technique” or any other “nefarious” intentions — arguments the judge ultimately sided with.

Skibicki’s trial before Justice Joyal is scheduled to resume June 3, for what is expected to be its final week.

Court is expected to hear defence evidence related to their argument that Skibicki should be found not criminally responsible in the deaths of the four women.

Support is available for anyone affected by these reports and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Immediate emotional assistance and crisis support are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a national hotline at 1-844-413-6649.

You can also access, through the government of Canada, health support services such as mental health counselling, community-based support and cultural services, and some travel costs to see elders and traditional healers. Family members seeking information about a missing or murdered loved one can access Family Information Liaison Units.