APTN National News
The Court of Appeal of Alberta has ordered a new trial for Wendy Scott, the co-accused and Crown’s key witness in the Connie Oakes murder case.
The Court of Appeal’s three-judge panel struck Scott’s guilty plea and quashed her second degree murder conviction.
The ruling, handed down last Thursday, came after the Crown agreed that the facts presented to the judge during Scott’s trial did not support her guilty plea.
“This error is serious,” wrote Crown Julie Morgan to the Court of Appeal’s case management officer in an Oct. 8 letter filed with the court. “The Crown is prepared to concede this appeal, on this issue only.”
Scott, 31, originally pleaded guilty to the May 2011 murder of Casey Armstrong, a 48 year-old Medicine Hat resident who was found dead in his trailer home bathtub with a knife wound through his neck. She was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 10 years.
Scott initially admitted that she went to Armstrong’s trailer with Oakes and watched her kill the man.
The Medicine Hat prosecutor who handled the original murder trial relied exclusively on Scott’s testimony—which was riddled with contradictions—to build the case against Oakes, 50. The Crown had no murder weapon, DNA or fingerprints tying Oakes to Armstrong’s slaying.
Oakes was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 14 years.
Aleksandra Simic, one of Oakes’ lawyers, said she would be studying the implication of Scott’s appeal ruling on Oakes’ own appeal which is scheduled for a hearing date in November.
The Alberta Crown handling Scott’s appeal said that after reviewing the facts it was determined the guilty plea did not hold up.
“The Crown conceded the conviction appeal as the facts presented to the trial judge do not support the plea to second degree murder,” said Morgan, in a statement sent to APTN National News.
Scott’s lawyer Deborah Hatch said there was nothing in Scott’s case that showed she was an active participant in the crime.
“Going along with someone who does all sorts of things, that is not being a party to murder,” said Hatch, who took on Scott’s case pro bono.
Alberta Legal Aid rejected Scott’s application because it determined the case had no merit.
Scott, who has an intellectual disability, is now scheduled to appear before the Court of Queen’s Bench in Medicine Hat on Nov. 19 for arraignment on her original first degree murder charge to begin the process for a new trial.
She will likely remain in custody until a bail hearing is arranged, said Hatch.
Oakes’ appeal also relies on Scott.
After she testified at Oakes’ trial, Scott phoned Kim Pate, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, and told her Oakes wasn’t at the scene of the murder, according affidavits filed in court as part of Oakes’ appeal.
That same phone call led Scott to launch her own appeal which was helped along by two top lawyers who did the work for free.
After the phone call Pate put Scott in touch with Montreal lawyer Lucie Joncas, an expert in the criminal law and mental health field. Joncas met with Scott several times on a pro bono basis at the Institut Philippe-Pinel in Montreal where Scott is currently an inmate. Joncas then put Scott in touch with Hatch who took on the case.
Scott has been assessed by a psychiatrist of having an IQ of 50.
“It is very hard for me to understand things that are complicated and I do find that a lot of things confuse me,” said Scott in an affidavit filed as part of her appeal. “I often do not understand legal terms and have had lawyers explain the same things to me a few times and still often find it hard to make meaning of what I am told.”
Scott stated in her affidavit that her only criminal conviction prior to the murder guilty plea came from shoplifting.
According her appeal filings, Scott pleaded guilty because she was led to believe that Oakes issued a statement against her. She also believed that if she didn’t admit he role in the murder she would face 25 years in prison.
“She ultimately came to implicate herself and another individual after multiple interrogations and being left with the understanding that if she did not implicate herself and Ms. Oakes, then she would be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 25 years based on a statement purportedly provided by Ms. Oakes,” said the court filing.
Oakes never issued any statements against Scott.
It’s still unclear whether the new trial will proceed and it’s possible a new Crown may ask for a stay of the charge. The new trial Crown, who is expected to be selected from outside Medicine Hat, would likely re-review Scott’s case before proceeding.
Part of that review would likely include Scott’s interrogation videos with Medicine Hat police. While those videos are still not available publicly, though APTN is currently in court arguing for their release, affidavits filed recently by Medicine Hat police investigators offered a glimpse into what happened.
The affidavits, from three investigators, revealed that Scott repeatedly changed her story and accused three other people of the murder during the interrogations. She claimed at one point that everything she said about Oakes was a lie and that the real killer was named “Ginger.”
The affidavits also revealed that investigators initially concluded that Scott had nothing to do with Armstrong’s murder.
But investigators went back to Scott again and took her to Armstrong’s trailer where she did a re-enactment of the murder. This re-enactment apparently convinced Medicine Hat police investigators Scott was finally telling the truth about her and Oakes’ involvement in the murder.