Lawyers for alleged serial killer to argue he is not criminally responsible

WINNIPEG –

Defence lawyers told court they will argue alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki is not criminally responsible for the deaths of four Indigenous women by way of a mental disorder.

Skibicki has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and an unidentified woman who Indigenous leaders have given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

He has pleaded not guilty, and on Wednesday Alyssa Munce, one of his attorneys, told the court they would be seeking a finding during the trial that he is not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

“This isn’t a case where we are looking at the evidence to determine whether or not Mr. Skibicki committed those offences,” she told the court Wednesday. “This is a situation where we are proffering a defence of NCR (Not Criminally Responsible).”

The move comes as they continue their bid to toss the jury arguing ‘pervasive’ media coverage may have caused an unconscious bias among the selected jurors. They are pushing to have the trial heard by a judge alone instead of a jury, arguing his rights are being violated.

“As soon as you have a partial jury, you are not having an impartial trial – and that’s the right of the accused,” Munce argued, “There is a reasonable probability that the potential jury pool was prejudiced, and that the jurors that we actually selected… are prejudiced.”

Munce pointed to a poll, commissioned by the defence, showing a strong negative opinion of Skibicki in the community, with 81 per cent believing he is guilty, and 66 per cent saying they would find it unacceptable if he were to be found not criminally responsible by way of a mental disorder.

READ MORE: Lawyers for alleged Winnipeg serial killer point to opinion poll in bid to get jury tossed

The defence had called U.S.-based cognitive psychologist Dr. Christine Ruva as an expert witness earlier this week, due to her research on the influence of pre-trial publicity can have on jury decision-making.

She testified the more pre-trial publicity there is, the more bias there will be on a jury. Once an opinion of guilt has been formed through pre-trial publicity, she said it is unlikely that will change during the trial.

She said the safest way to avoid unconscious jury bias is to only allow people to serve on a jury if they haven’t heard of the case before.

The court heard today of the 12 jurors and two alternates selected, seven had indicated they had not heard of the case before.

Crown Prosecutor Charles Murray told the court Ruva’s testimony is based on mock jury trials, and the volunteers participating in her studies did not have a real person’s liberty in their hands.

“This is a dangerous use of social science,” he said. “We take one social science expert who says they are cemented to a particular view based on those experiments, and on that basis we are asked to just dispose of our jury system in Canada?”

He argued further Ruva’s expertise is based on the U.S. legal system and not Canada’s where there is a presumption of impartiality when selecting jurors.

“The reality is if we accept her opinion, we can’t have jury trials in high-profile cases.”

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, who is presiding over the case, said this is a complicated issue. He will be giving a decision in the matter on Friday. 

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