Murder trial for man accused of killing Crystal Andrews concludes in Thompson

Verdict on the charge of second-degree murder to be presented in Gods Lake Narrows Jan. 24

Closing arguments were presented in Thompson Jan. 20 at the conclusion of Michael Okemow’s second-degree murder trial for the 2015 killing of Crystal Andrews in Gods Lake Narrows.

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin said after arguments were presented that he had committed to delivering the verdict Jan. 24 in the community where the offence occurred. Martin said this is likely the first time that the Court of Queen’s Bench has travelled to an outlying community in Northern Manitoba for such a purpose.

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Crown counsel Ari Millo said during his closing arguments that although the pieces of circumstantial evidence presented against Okemow during the eight-day trial did not independently prove Okemow’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, collectively they showed he was the one who killed Andrews, who went missing while walking home early on the morning of Nov. 8, 2015 and was found dead in the woods near an ATV trail close to where the winter road enters the remote community the following day.

“The court should find that Michael Okemow drove Crystal Andrews to the west side winter road and that he killed her there,” said Millo.

An SUV that belonged to Wilfred Okemow, Michale Okemow’s father, was found stuck in the muskeg about 300 metres from Andrews’s body. One of her shoes was found between the SUV and her body and a search of the area conducted in May 2016 turned up the hooded sweatshirt she had been wearing the night before she went missing.

Millo said when the SUV was first discovered by police on the morning of Nov. 8, the passenger power window was down, but that it was up when people showed up to try and get the SUV unstuck later that day, a little after 1 p.m.

“The only one who would have had the key to that vehicle was the same person who had left the house with it, Michael Okemow,” said Millo.

The Crown also argued that Michael Okemow’s DNA being found in a vaginal swab taken from Andrews showed that he was lying when he told police he didn’t know who she was.

Defence lawyer Kathryn Henley said the Crown was relying on five key pieces of circumstantial evidence but that none of them proved Okemow murdered Andrews.

She noted that there was a potential seven-day window in which Okemow and Andrews could have had sex and that no other definitive connection between the two had been established.

“There is also no DNA tying Miss Andrews to the inside of the vehicle,” Henley said.

She also pointed out that evidence about shoes belonging to Okemow that could have caused bruising from stomp marks on her cheeks only showed that shoes of that type might have done it, not those particular ones.

“The footwear evidence should be given absolutely no weight,” she said.

A vehicle that looked like SUV found near Okemow’s body was seen on the morning of Nov. 8 near where two witness had seen Andrews walking minutes before. Another witness testified that she had seen Okemow driving it shortly before that when he hit people with the vehicle. Okemow told police that two men in the back of the car had knocked him out and stolen it and that he woke up later that day in a ditch. He also told RCMP 24 times during a four-and-a-half hour interview that he didn’t know Andrews or what had happened to her.

“This is far from the only SUV in the community,” Henley said, adding that it being near Andrews’s body meant little, since there was no evidence about what time she died or even where she died. “Proximity … is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Henley also suggested that police zeroed in on Okemow as a suspect and then concentrated all their investigative efforts on him.

“Tunnel vision is a big concern in wrongful conviction cases,” she said. “The evidence as a whole is not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Michael Okemow killed Miss Andrews.”

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