Michael Okemow of Gods Lake Narrows was pronounced guilty of second-degree murder Jan. 24 in the 2015 killing of Crystal Andrews, who went missing on her way home Nov. 8 of that year and was found near an ATV trail not far from where the winter road enters the community the following day.
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin delivered the verdict in Gods Lake Narrows, marking the first time that a Queen’s Bench proceeding was held in a remote community. The unusual arrangement was made so that Andrews’s family and residents of the community where the crime occurred could be present for the verdict.
Okemow’s trial was heard in Thompson Jan. 8-20. Court heard that an SUV identified as the one belonging to his father was seen in the area where Andrews was last seen walking and that it was found on the morning of Nov. 8, 2015 stuck in the muskeg about 300 metres from where Andrews’s body was found. A vaginal swab sample taken from her during her autopsy contained DNA that matched Okemow’s. Court also heard testimony from Okemow's mother that he arrived at her home late on the afternoon of Nov. 8 with wet clothes and that he then proceeded to take a shower and wash the clothes he had been wearing. A pair of his shoes found by police in a box in a crawl space in his parents’ home’s basement were found to have similar characteristics to shoes that caused bruising on Andrews’s face.
Okemow told police in statements around the time of the killing that he didn’t know who Andrews was and that he had been carjacked by two unknown assailants who choked him unconscious in his vehicle and that he woke up the next day in a ditch. Okemow wasn’t charged until March 2018, about two-and-a-half years after the killing.
“Although this verdict will not make up for the heartbreaking, tragic loss of Crystal, her family feels some form of justice today,” said a Jan. 24 press release issued by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), a political advocacy group that represents more than 20 Northern Manitoba First Nations. “She is lovingly remembered by her family as a gentle, kind, and humble spirit. She had a deep love for her family and was a proud mother to two beautiful children. She was a devoted partner, sister, daughter, and granddaughter. She had a soft spot for animals and would provide care to the many animals in the community. Crystal graduated from high school and was the class valedictorian. She was ambitious and dreamed of going into medicine or social work.”
“Today is historic,” said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee. “We need to change systems to allow for community inclusion and involvement in the judicial process. I want to express and extend my deepest condolences to the Andrews family on the loss of Crystal. I am hoping that the verdict will bring some justice and closure to the family as they find healing in their ongoing journey of grieving. Let us remember the caring and loving person that she was and how her family fought to seek justice for her. ”
Settee also said that work needed to be done to reduce and end the disproportionally high amount of violence committed against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ people.
"Let us continue to work together in implementing the Calls for Justice from the Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls]," said Settee. "I urge everyone in Manitoba, including leaders, to take meaningful steps, efforts, and action to create a safer province for Indigenous, women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. We are all part of the solution and it is essential to work together to end the violence in our province.”