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Trial begins for Winnipeg serial killer who claims he was mentally ill


The trial of a man who admits he killed four women in Winnipeg is set to begin Wednesday, and a law professor says lawyers for Jeremy Skibicki have multiple hurdles to clear for a defence of mental illness.

Skibicki, 37, faces four counts of first-degree murder.

His lawyers told court this week they will argue that he committed the killings but is not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

Brandon Trask, an assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba, said proving Skibicki had a mental disorder at the time of the killings is only the first step for the defence.

Once a mental illness has been established, Trask said, it comes down to whether the diagnosis made Skibicki incapable of knowing that the slayings were wrong.

“This is not the sort of a case where there’s a single victim, a single moment in time. This is a situation involving four victims across presumably a lengthier period in time,” Trask, who has no involvement with the case, said in an interview.

“This is going to be very challenging for the defence, very complex and very technical.”

Both sides have told court they plan to call expert witnesses to testify on Skibicki’s mental state.

Trask said there is not the same need to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt as there is with a criminal conviction. The measure used for a finding of not criminally responsible is 50 per cent plus one that the accused most likely did not understand what he was doing was wrong.

Trask said it will be up to prosecutors to poke holes in the defence arguments.

“I would predict this is going to take a number of twist and turns over the coming weeks,” Trask said.

Skibicki is charged in the deaths of Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and a fourth unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

Police believe Buffalo Woman was killed in March 2022, while the others were killed that May.

The partial remains of Contois were found in a garbage bin and at a city-run landfill. Police have said they believe the remains of Harris and Myran are at a different, privately owned landfill outside of the city.

They said the location of Buffalo Woman is unknown.

The case was originally supposed to be heard in front of a jury. Jurors were selected at the end of April and were set to hear evidence this week.

That changed Monday, when the defence told court Skibicki doesn’t contest the killings and is pursuing a not criminally responsible defence.

The Crown then agreed to a long-standing defence bid to have the case heard by a judge alone.

The two sides agreed the complexity of a not criminally responsible defence is better suited to a judge than a jury.

Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal was set to dismiss the jury Wednesday then begin hearing evidence.

Not criminally responsible cases are rare.

They represent less than one per cent of adult criminal court cases in most of the country, according to data from Statistics Canada.

From available data from 10 provinces and territories, there were 1,908 verdicts of not criminally responsible recorded between 2005 and 2012. Of those, 13 involved a homicide.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.

   — With files from Steve Lambert

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