The “defence did not call any of its own evidence”

That’s the subhed to the CBC’s online story about Raymond Cormier’s acquittal on charges of murdering 15 year-old Tina Fontaine:

Screenshot from 2018-02-22 19-45-29

The trial, which began on Jan. 29, was originally scheduled to last five weeks, but the Crown rested its case after presenting evidence over the course of 12 days, and the defence did not call any of its own evidence.

In a criminal matter, the accused doesn’t necessarily have to call any evidence in his own defence.  For most charges – including murder – the burden of proof lies completely with the Crown, and it’s not enough to show that the accused probably did it.  Nothing less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.

In this case, it certainly appears that the evidence – including conclusive proof that this young girl was actually murdered – simply wasn’t there:

The Crown had no forensic evidence or eyewitnesses directly linking Cormier to Tina’s death, and the cause of her death remains undetermined.

Instead, the Crown’s largely circumstantial case relied on secretly recorded statements made by Cormier, along with testimony from witnesses who said they saw Cormier and Tina together in the days before she disappeared from the Best Western Charterhouse hotel in downtown Winnipeg on Aug. 8, 2014.

The Crown had no forensic evidence or eyewitnesses directly linking Cormier to Tina’s death, and the cause of her death remains undetermined.

Instead, the Crown’s largely circumstantial case relied on secretly recorded statements made by Cormier, along with testimony from witnesses who said they saw Cormier and Tina together in the days before she disappeared from the Best Western Charterhouse hotel in downtown Winnipeg on Aug. 8, 2014.

[…]

Cormier’s defence lawyers, Tony Kavanagh and Andrew Synyshyn, challenged that evidence, arguing the Crown’s case was built on inferences made from recordings that are difficult to hear.

First, with no cause of death, Kavanagh argued in his closing remarks that the jury cannot know for certain that Tina died as a result of an unlawful act, and Cormier should be acquitted “on that alone.”

They argued those statements allegedly made by Cormier in transcripts prepared by police could not be verified by listening to the audio recordings and pointed out that at no point in the transcripts did Cormier admit to the killing.

Even if the jurors accept the accuracy of the words written in police transcripts, defence lawyer Kavanagh argued that rather than admissions of guilt, Cormier’s words should be interpreted as those of a man who feels guilty for not doing more to help Tina.

“That is the guilt that is eating him,” Kavanagh said.

They also challenged the memories of witnesses who said they saw Cormier with the duvet cover and suggested there are other potential suspects who might have harmed Tina.

“We say that justice for Tina Fontaine does not result in an injustice for Raymond Cormier,” Kavanagh said.

Coming so soon after the Gerald Stanley case – another in which a white man was acquitted of killing a young First Nations person – the anger over Cormier’s acquittal is already trending on social media.  For me, the real question is whether a defendant of aboriginal descent, charged with murdering a young white person, would have received the same same benefit of the doubt.

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