By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The family of an Indigenous woman whose death prosecutors described as worse than any horror movie says there is finally justice now that her killer has been found guilty.
“It’s not fair what happened to her, but I am fairly grateful that there was justice for her today,” Christine Wood’s father, George Wood, said Wednesday.
It took about two hours for a jury to convict Brett Ronald Overby, 32, of second-degree murder in the 21-year-old woman’s death.
Evidence during the trial showed that she was stabbed 11 times, her throat was slit and her skull and leg were broken. Blood was found all over Overby’s basement.
“How did Christine Wood die?” Crown lawyer Brent Davidson asked in his closing address Tuesday.
“She was slaughtered.”
A second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.
Wood was from the Oxford House First Nation in remote northern Manitoba and had travelled to Winnipeg in the summer of 2016. She was staying at a hotel with her parents, who were in town to support a sick relative, the night she disappeared.
The family was extremely close, her parents testified, and Wood texted her mother, Melinda Wood, every single day. After the young woman’s disappearance, her parents spent months searching Winnipeg looking for answers.
Wood’s body was found 10 months after she disappeared in a ditch near a farmer’s field just outside the city.
Court heard she had met Overby through the online dating website Plenty of Fish and they arranged to meet for a few drinks.
“That was a meeting from which she would never return,” Crown attorney Chantal Boutin said during the trial.
Overby admitted to killing Wood, but his lawyer was asking for a manslaughter conviction because Overby said he didn’t remember what happened and didn’t mean to harm her.
He testified that he went back to his house with Wood but she started acting erratically and violently. After taking Wood down to his basement to show her a mouse skeleton, she came at him with a knife, Overby said.
He said that’s when he blacked out.
He next remembered seeing Wood lying on the floor in a pool of blood, he told court.
Sheila North, a relative and a former grand chief, said the trial was difficult on the family but it was important they stay strong to honour Wood’s memory. She shared a hug with Wood’s parents in court and they told each other in Cree that “it’s finished.”
The verdict sends an important message to Indigenous people searching for justice, added North, especially after recent high-profile acquittals.
“I was fearful that something bad would happen and the Tina Fontaine experience would happen again, when we are all so hopeful and then hopes dashed,” she said. “But that didn’t happen this time.”
Fontaine’s body was pulled from the Red River in 2014, which sparked national outrage and renewed calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The man accused in the 15-year-old’s death, Raymond Cormier, was acquitted last year.
Wood was not just another statistic and her life mattered, said Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations.
“In this decision I think that Christine’s spirit has been honoured,” he said.
“There is some vindication for her. She is smiling down upon us and saying, ‘Thank you.'”