WINNIPEG — A man accused of killing a 15-year-old Indigenous girl and dumping her body in Winnipeg's Red River has been found not guilty of second-degree murder.
Tina Fontaine's remains were discovered eight days after she was reported missing in August 2014. Raymond Cormier was charged more than a year later.
The jury deliberated for 11 hours before coming to its decision.
There were gasps from Tina's family and their supporters as the verdict was read. Her great-aunt, Thelma Favel, who raised the girl wept.
"Do you really think you're going to get away with it?" yelled one woman who was escorted out of court.
The Crown had argued that Cormier convicted himself with his own admissions on secret police recordings, but the defence said numerous forensic holes in the prosecution's case had left reasonable doubt.
Tina was being sexually exploited after coming to Winnipeg from her home on the Sagkeeng First Nation. Her death prompted renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
There was no DNA evidence linking Cormier to the teen and doctors who were called to testify said they could not definitively say how Tina died.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Glenn Joyal had told jurors that if they weren't satisfied that Tina's death was caused by an unlawful act, such as being smothered or dumped in the water while unconscious, then they had to find Cormier not guilty.
If they decided her death was unlawful, then jurors were to determine if Cormier was responsible.
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Over three weeks of testimony, the jury heard how Tina's relatively stable upbringing spiralled out of control when her father was murdered. Her mother came back into her life and Tina had gone to visit her in Winnipeg, where the girl descended into life on the streets.
She and her boyfriend met the much-older Cormier in the summer of 2014. The jury heard Cormier gave the couple a place to stay, gave Tina drugs and had sex with her.
Witnesses remember Tina and Cormier fighting in the street over a stolen truck and Tina accusing him of selling her bike for drugs. Tina went so far as to report a stolen truck to police.
She was in the care of social services and was staying at a Winnipeg hotel when she disappeared.
Her body was found wrapped in a Costco duvet cover that several witnesses said was similar to one Cormier owned. Experts testified the river had washed away any DNA on the cover.
Investigators went undercover and offered Cormier an apartment. Audio bugs captured what formed the heart of the Crown's case.
Cormier recorded: 'I finished the job'
Cormier was recorded telling a woman that he would make a bet that Tina was killed because he had had sex with her and then "I found out she was 15 years old."
In another recording, Cormier was heard arguing with a woman and saying that there was a little girl in a "grave someplace screaming at the top of her lungs for me to finish the job. And guess what? I finished the job."
The defence took issue with the quality of the recordings and argued that without DNA evidence and no cause of death, the Crown couldn't prove that Tina didn't die from a drug overdose or naturally in what Cormier's lawyer called the "underbelly of the city."
Watch: First Nations chiefs react to not guilty verdict in Fontaine death