Senator wants inquiry after charges stayed against two women in Alberta killing

Senator wants inquiry into Alberta case

OTTAWA — A senator is calling for a public inquiry after Alberta prosecutors stayed charges against a second woman accused in a murder case.

Kim Pate says an inquiry is needed to look at the actions of police and the Crown in taking Wendy Scott and Connie Oakes to court.

The pair were charged with first-degree murder after Casey Armstrong was found stabbed in the neck in the bathtub of his mobile home in Medicine Hat, Alta., in May 2011.

Scott pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, then testified against Oakes. A jury convicted Oakes on the same charge.

The Court of Appeal ordered new trials for both women after Scott, who has a low IQ and cognitive difficulties, retracted her confession and testimony. Court heard the only evidence against Oakes came from Scott. There was no forensic evidence or motive linking the women to the killing.  

The Crown stayed the charge against Oakes last year and the charge against Scott last week.

The case “screams” for a thorough review,” said Pate.

“Here are two women who ended up going to prison, facing potentially the rest of their lives in prison, for what has now been overturned and looks like clearly wrongful convictions,” she said.

“We need to examine how what happened to them happened, and why it was not interfered with at any stage of the process.”

Pate, who was appointed to the Senate in November, said she plans to talk soon with justice officials about an inquiry.

She had already called for an inquiry into the case while she was executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. During her time with the organization, she met both Oakes and Scott, and Oakes became an advocate with the group.

Pate said someone needs to look into what happened to the two women and why it took years for them to be freed.

Alberta Justice said its recent decision to stay the murder charge against Scott was made after much consideration.

“This case was assessed and reassessed on a constant basis,” spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said in an emailed statement.

“Every case has its own unique factual background and complicated evidentiary considerations. In this particular case, the Crown evaluated both the likelihood of conviction and the public interest, and, after doing so, the decision was made by the Crown to direct the stay of proceedings as it was felt to be in the best interests of justice to do so.”

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton

The Canadian Press