Donna Bartlett has been trying to put it out of her mind, but the thought of hearing details in a courtroom next week about her granddaughter’s death has been hard to shake.
“The closer it gets, the more anxious I get, the more easy to set off,” she said.
“Sometimes I just want to break down and cry, and I can’t do that. I got my kids and everybody else — so I try and stay strong.”
It’s been almost a year since police announced Jeremy Skibicki had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, whom Bartlett helped raise.
Skibicki was also charged in the deaths of three other First Nations women — Morgan Harris, 39, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a third unidentified woman who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by the community.
The case is heading to court again starting Monday morning, with a pretrial scheduled to last until Nov. 21.
While Myran’s family said Crown prosecutors have shared some information with them about what details are expected to emerge, that won’t make them any easier to hear.
“There’s not much you can do to prepare for something like this…. Anything that’s shared in that courtroom is going to be hard on me and my family,” said Jorden Myran, Marcedes Myran’s younger sister.
“You’ve just got to go in and try and be as strong as you can and try and get through it together as a family.”
Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Morgan Harris, said no matter how hard it may be to listen to what’s raised at pretrial — or to potentially be in the same room as the person accused in her cousin’s death — it’s important for her family to be there.
“We’re at a point where, you know, we see progress. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. And that doesn’t mean we slow down, though,” Robinson said.
“If we take a step back now, things will get forgotten about and they may not push as hard. So that’s why we’ve been so diligent on staying strong and pushing forward.”
Both families said they also plan to keep pushing for a landfill search for the remains of their loved ones. Police have said they believe they were taken to the Prairie Green landfill near Winnipeg.
Robinson said bringing home her cousin’s remains is also a promise she made to Harris’s older sister, who died earlier this year after being diagnosed with cancer.
What’s in a pretrial?
While a publication ban means any details that emerge in Skibicki’s upcoming court appearances can’t be reported, there are common issues that often arise at pretrials, said Chris Gamby, a defence lawyer who is not involved in Skibicki’s case.
Those include things like whether certain evidence is allowed to be used at trial and whether statements an accused gave to police are considered admissible. Those kinds of issues are often determined through what’s called a voir dire — a kind of “trial within a trial,” he said.
“The purpose of the pretrial is to kind of get some of that stuff figured out beforehand and give the hearing shape,” said Gamby, communications director for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba and a criminal defence lawyer at Brennan Partners.
“If the Crown is going to be relying on a piece of evidence, it would be good to know if they’re allowed to do that before we get all the way down the rabbit hole of having a jury selected, having people come before the court and having the actual hearing.”
Gamby said he can only imagine the amount of evidence there must be to go through in such a complicated matter.
For now, the families of both Harris and Myran said they’re leaning on each other and their community for support — especially in places like the camps that have been set up in honour of the women.
“It helps because then you see that, yeah, people care. People understand. They’re trying,” Bartlett said.
“[It] makes me feel a little bit better. Like we’re not just doing it by ourselves.”
Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg), or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.