Top court sides with Crown in Courtepatte appeals

Michael Briscoe.
Michael Briscoe
By Ben Gelinas and Karen Kleiss, edmontonjournal April 8, 2010

EDMONTON — Michael Briscoe will again stand trial in the sex slaying of Edmonton teen Nina Courtepatte, and Joseph Laboucan’s first-degree murder conviction in the same case has been reinstated in a pair of decisions handed down Thursday by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Briscoe was initially acquitted, but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, because the judge didn’t consider the possibility that Briscoe was “wilfully blind.” The Supreme Court agreed.

“Even (Briscoe’s) own statements to police, on which the trial judge relied heavily, suggest that he had a strong, well-founded suspicion that someone would be killed at the golf course and that he may have been wilfully blind to the kidnapping and prospect of sexual assault,” the Supreme Court stated in its decision. “His statements also show that he deliberately chose not to inquire about what the members of the group intended to do, because he did not want to know.”

Briscoe, 34 at the time of Nina’s death, once again faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping.

Laboucan was 19 when Nina died. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life before the conviction was overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

The trial judge rejected Laboucan’s testimony, believing he had reason to lie. The Court of Appeal said this showed the judge did not presume Laboucan innocent.

Canada’s top court determined that the judge’s consideration of Laboucan’s motives in testimony did not undermine the presumption of innocence.

Nina’s mother lauded the decisions.

“They shouldn’t get away with what they think they were going to get away with. I’m glad that the Supreme Court said no, and they’re going to be put back in their place,” Nina’s mother Peacha Atkinson said.

Atkinson said she had trouble sleeping as she turned over the potential outcomes overnight.

“To me, it’s been drawn out, going on too long, and yet, in the same breath, I have to thank everybody — the Crown and the Appeal Crown — for going to bat for this case,” Atkinson said. “For that, I am so grateful. If I didn’t have them in my corner, I don’t know what would happen.”

Atkinson said she’ll be there to watch Briscoe’s new trial.

“Now that he’s going back to trial, we can rest a little bit easier. We’re not looking forward to going back to trial, but I’ll be sitting there,” she said.

She hopes this will send Briscoe a message.

“We can never get over the feeling of the loss. So by seeing my face, you’ll know the pain we’re going through every day,” she said.

Evidence in court revealed that on April 3, 2005, a group of mall rats invited Nina, 13, and her friend to a bush party. The group drove to a golf course outside Edmonton, where Nina was raped twice before being slashed and bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer.

Nina Courtepatte
Nina Courtepatte

In all, five people were charged in connection with Nina’s death.

Michael Blaine “Pyro” Williams was 17 when he raped and helped beat Nina to death, then tried to light her clothes on fire.

In the face of DNA evidence, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance at parole for 10 years. The sentence was upheld on appeal in 2008.

Williams’ girlfriend at the time was a troubled 16-year-old mall rat nicknamed Buffy who came along and held Nina down while she was repeatedly raped, then she used her “throwing knives” to slash the young girl’s throat and face.

Buffy was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault and now, at the age of 21, is serving a four-year jail term followed by three years of supervision. She is the only one to be sentenced as a youth, and she received the most severe sentence available under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Crown prosecutors believe she should have been convicted of first-degree murder, and they have appealed the verdict.

Stephanie Rosa Bird was 17 when she helped lure Nina to the golf course and struck the first blow, hitting her victim in the head with a wrench. Then she helped hold the girl down, before she had a change of heart and left the scene. The first judge who heard the case convicted Bird of manslaughter, in part because she left before Nina was killed.

However, Bird’s case also went to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in December the high court replaced the manslaughter verdict with a first-degree murder conviction. She is now serving a life sentence with no chance at parole for 10 years.

Laboucan also faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of Ellie May Meyer, an Edmonton sex-trade worker. His preliminary inquiry began last month.

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