By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The cousin of a teenager whose death fuelled calls to stop violence against Indigenous women was herself killed in a botched attempt to collect on a drug debt, jurors at a manslaughter trial were told Monday.
Jeanenne Chantel Fontaine, who was 29, was shot in March 2017 before the house she was in was set on fire. Christopher Brass and Jason Meilleur are on trial charged with manslaughter.
In his opening statement, Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Bayly told the jury that Meilleur, Brass and another man showed up at a Winnipeg home searching for Fontaine’s boyfriend, who owed Meilleur’s girlfriend money in a methamphetamine deal.
Bayly said they only found Fontaine.
“(The) situation rapidly turned to robbery,” he said.
At some point, Bayly said, Fontaine was shot in the back of the head. After the shooting, “chaos ensued” and the house was set on fire, he said.
The body of Fontaine’s 15-year-old cousin, Tina Fontaine, had been discovered about 2 1/2 years earlier in the Red River. Raymond Cormier was acquitted in her death last year.
The teen had become an exploited youth in the months before she died. She ran away repeatedly from a youth shelter and from hotels where she had been placed.
Her death sparked national outrage and renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Firefighter Kevin Luptak, who responded to the blaze, testified firefighters were searching the smoky house when he spotted a leg in one of the rooms.
He said Jeanenne Fontaine was wearing a T-shirt, pants and high-top shoes when he found her lying on her shoulder on the floor. She had burns on her stomach and her right forearm.
Firefighters carried the young woman out of the house to an ambulance waiting outside.
Fire investigator Sandra Peterson testified at least four fires were set, including two in which paper and fabric were put on stove burners set to high.
Meilleur’s defence lawyer, Theodore Mariash, asked Peterson if one person could have set all the fires before the house filled with smoke and flame. She replied that she was not sure.
Fontaine’s mother, Lana Fontaine, quietly began to cry as pictures from inside the burned home were shown in court. They showed her daughter’s room damaged by heat and smoke, but many of her belongings — including clothing, purses and furniture — were still intact.
Officers didn’t find any gun casings in the home, but Winnipeg police Const. Susan Roy-Haegeman testified that fire damage can affect forensic evidence.
Officers also found blood on drywall and the floor where firefighters found Fontaine.