Alexandra Zabjek, Canwest News Service
EDMONTON — Canada’s highest court has accepted a Crown appeal to find a young woman who took part in the beating death of Nina Courtepatte guilty of first-degree murder instead of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
In a ruling released Friday morning, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found that the evidence presented during Stephanie Bird’s trial did not justify a manslaughter conviction.
On April 5, 2005, Bird was among a group of young people who lured 13-year-old Courtepatte and her friend to a golf course outside the city, on the promise of a party. The group walked to the fairway, where they attacked Nina.
Bird struck the first blow, hitting Courtepatte with a wrench, Alberta’s Court of Appeal found. Bird then held Nina down while she was raped twice.
Witnesses said Bird then left, telling the group she had to take Courtepatte’s friend to the car. In later conversations with friends, Bird said she was “scared” of the men involved in the attack and “forced” to take the wrench from the car.
A trial judge initially found Bird guilty of manslaughter, based in part on a defence known as the “defence of abandonment.” For that defence to succeed, the trial judge had to be convinced that Bird had a “change of heart,” and that she spoke or acted in a way that made it clear to the others that she was pulling out of the attack.
In her judgment, the trial judge ruled that Bird communicated her withdrawal “implicitly” and said protesting too loudly might have placed Bird’s own life in jeopardy.
Crown prosecutors appealed that decision to Alberta’s Court of Appeal where the manslaughter conviction was upheld in February.
“There is evidence on this record capable of supporting the defence of abandonment,” Appeal Court Justice Ron Berger wrote on behalf of the majority at the time. “The appeal is dismissed.”
In its decision released Friday, the Supreme Court justices ruled “that the evidence was incapable of supporting the defence of abandonment. No other defence arises on the facts.”
“The appeal is therefore allowed and the conviction for manslaughter is set aside. As the facts found by the trial judge clearly establish that the murder was planned and deliberate, and involved the unlawful confinement of the victim at the time of the killing, a conviction for first degree murder is entered.”
In all, five people were charged with first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping in Courtepatte’s death. Most of the cases are still winding through the system. The other people charged include Joseph Laboucan, Michael Briscoe, Michael Williams, and a teenage mall rat named “Buffy,” who cannot be named because of her age at the time of the killing.
Briscoe was the only one of the accused not to have been found guilty of a crime, although Crown prosecutors are appealing that decision.
Bird had also been convicted of kidnapping and rape.
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