Defence points to victim’s co-worker as alternative suspect in closing of youth’s murder trial

Lawyers defending a youth on trial for first-degree murder in the 2019 killing of a Winnipeg woman told a jury Monday police didn’t adequately investigate her co-worker as a possible suspect — even though the woman said she was afraid of him. 

The jury at the month-long Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench trial has heard that Lise Danais, 51, had filed a complaint against one of her co-workers at some point before she was found in critical condition in her Rockcliffe Road house on the morning of March 26, 2019. She was rushed to hospital but died shortly afterward.

A youth known to her was charged close to five months later. He cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and CBC News is not revealing some details in the case as they could identify him. 

In court Monday, the youth’s lawyer, Matt Gould, argued that the evidence against his client was mostly circumstantial and questioned why other possibilities weren’t investigated more thoroughly. 

Court heard that the co-worker, who testified during the trial but can’t be identified due to a publication ban, told police that he was at work the day Danais was killed. Electronic records proved that he was there, court heard.

Danais had been on leave for health reasons at the time of her death.

Gould argued those electronic records could have been faked. He told the court the man’s manager could not say for certain that she saw her employee at work on March 26, 2019 — only that she would have noticed if he wasn’t there. 

Gould also told the jury the man had turned the security cameras at his house off the day before Danais was killed. 

Meanwhile, Danais had told friends and family that she was thinking of getting security cameras for her home because she felt afraid, Gould told the court. 

Crime of opportunity

Over the course of the trial, the Crown presented evidence they said proves the youth was the only person who had the time and opportunity to kill Danais. 

That evidence included DNA found at the scene and video surveillance that showed the youth was the only person to leave and enter Danais’s home the morning she was found.

Police were called to Danais’s home on Rockcliffe Road on March 26, 2019. During the trial for a youth accused of killing her, police said they did not find any signs of forced entry. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Police testified during the trial that they found no signs of forced entry or indication that someone had broken in. 

Danais also had a very protective, aggressive dog, which would have alerted her to an intruder or tried to protect her, Crown prosecutor Jennifer Mann said during closing arguments.

Mann said the youth arranged to have the dog out of the home the morning Danais died, so he wouldn’t have to deal with it.

Mann also argued that text messages between Danais and the youth show that she was “needy,” and relied on him to run errands and for emotional support. 

Though no murder weapon was recovered, Mann told jurors that put together, all the evidence points to the youth as the killer. 

“This case is like a puzzle,” she said. 

“Each piece of evidence on its own could be explained, but put them together and the picture of Lise Danais’s murder is clear.”

Reasonable doubt

Defence lawyer Gould told jurors the Crown was stretching reason in order to make the youth look guilty. 

The DNA evidence could be explained by the fact that the youth was in Danais’s home often, while the video surveillance was from neighbours’ homes across the street and may not have captured everything, Gould argued.

In the thousands of pages of text messages between Danais and the accused presented as evidence, they never appeared to argue or be hostile to one another, he said. 

Gould also questioned why DNA evidence found at the crime scene from an unknown male wasn’t further pursued, or why police didn’t try looking for the murder weapon at the Brady Landfill, given that Danais was killed on a garbage pickup day.

All that, taken together, should be enough to create reasonable doubt and return a not-guilty verdict, Gould argued.

The trial resumes Wednesday, when jurors will receive instructions from Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Turner.

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