Judge issues sentence in trial of man who confessed to killing four women in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG — A judge is scheduled to deliver his ruling today in the first-degree murder trial of a man who confessed to killing four women in Winnipeg.

Jeremy Skibicki’s lawyers argue he should be found innocent and that he suffered from schizophrenia at the time of the 2022 killings.

But prosecutors say he had the mental capacity and awareness to commit the killings and cover them up.

They called the killings racially motivated, saying the 37-year-old targeted Indigenous women in homeless shelters.

The case has sparked calls for governments and organisations to address the ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

A first-degree murder conviction would automatically carry a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, while a finding of not criminally responsible would mean Skibicki would be detained in a hospital until a review board determines he no longer poses a threat to society.

During the weeks-long trial, two forensic psychiatrists presented conflicting motives for the murders of four women: Morgan Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, Rebecca Contois, 24, and an unidentified woman named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by the indigenous community.

Contois was from the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, and Harris and Myran were from the Long Plain First Nation. All three were living in Winnipeg when they were killed.

The only evidence police have pointing to the identity of Buffalo Woman is DNA found on the cuff of the woman’s jacket.

Dr Sohom Das, who testified for the defence, said Skibicki felt compelled to kill the women because he was on a mission from God and heard auditory hallucinations that urged him to kill.

Das said Skibicki already knew at the time that the killings were legally wrong, but could not say that they were morally wrong.

The court heard Skibicki had a history of mental illness, including depression, borderline personality disorder and suicidal thoughts, but had not previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, an expert witness called by the Crown, testified that Skibicki likely suffered from antisocial and substance abuse disorders, but did not have an active serious mental disorder at the time of the murder.

Chaimowitz believes Skibicki was driven to kill because of his sexual interest in the dead.

The killings came to light in May 2022, when a man searching for scrap metal found Contois’ partial remains in a dumpster in the Skibicki neighborhood. More of her remains were discovered at a city landfill the following month.

During police questioning, Skibicki confessed to killing Contois and three other women. He said the killings were racially motivated and cited white supremacist views.

The court heard he attacked the women, strangled or drowned them and then performed sex acts on their bodies before throwing them in a bin.

Buffalo Woman was killed in March of this year. Harris and Myran were killed in May.

Crown authorities said they did not believe there were any more victims.

In 2022, police said the remains of Harris and Myran had been taken to another landfill outside the city, but searching the site would be too complicated and dangerous.

There have been nationwide protests demanding a search of the Prairie Green landfill. The federal and Manitoba governments recently allocated a combined $40 million for the search, which is set to begin in the fall.

The federal government has a hotline for those affected by missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness hotline, staffed in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

Canadian Press