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DNA evidence of unidentified victim of Winnipeg serial killer found on jacket

WINNIPEG — The only evidence police have pointing to the identity of one victim of an admitted serial killer is a bit of DNA found on a jacket cuff, a Winnipeg judge heard Tuesday.
Jeremy Skibicki is shown in this undated handout photo, taken by police while in custody, provided by the Court of King's Bench. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Court of King's Bench *MANDATORY CREDIT*

WINNIPEG — The only evidence police have pointing to the identity of one victim of an admitted serial killer is a bit of DNA found on a jacket cuff, a Winnipeg judge heard Tuesday.

A forensics expert testified that multiple portions of a reversible jacket from designer Baby Phat were analyzed.

Police believe the DNA belonged to the unidentified victim Indigenous leaders have since named Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman.

"It was female in origin," Florence Célestin testified remotely from Ottawa, where she is based, at the trial of Jeremy Skibicki.

Célestin, who works at the RCMP's forensics laboratory, told court more than 100 exhibits taken from Skibicki's home have been processed up until earlier this year in attempts to identify Buffalo Woman.

The only sample she was able to extract and the only one believed to belong to Buffalo Woman came from the cuff of the jacket.

Célestin said she's not able to confirm whether a person is alive or dead based off a DNA sample.

Investigators believe Buffalo Woman is an Indigenous woman in her mid-20s who was killed around March 15, 2022.

The Crown has said Skibicki forcibly confined Buffalo Woman, choked and then drowned her. It is not known where her remains are.

Skibicki told police he sold the Baby Phat jacket belonging to her on Facebook Marketplace.

Police were later able to track it down.

Skibicki, 37, is charged with first-degree murder for the slayings of Buffalo Woman and three others — Rebecca Contois, 24, Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26.

His lawyers have said he killed the four Indigenous women but is not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

Crown prosecutors say the killings were racially motivated and Skibicki preyed on the vulnerable women at homeless shelters. He assaulted the women, strangled or drowned them and disposed of their bodies in garbage bins. Two were dismembered.

They previously presented video surveillance evidence of Skibicki with the three identified victims to paint a complete picture of the investigation into Skibicki's actions.

Video evidence of him with Contois has not been played in court, as police originally arrested Skibicki after her partial remains were found in a garbage bin on May 16, 2022.

Court has heard police collected about a dozen unknown female DNA samples from Skibicki's home.

Célestin said nothing else collected from Skibicki’s home matched the sample found on the Baby Phat jacket.

In early 2023, police collected samples from the father and mother of Ashlee Shingoose, a First Nations woman who was last seen in downtown Winnipeg in March 2022, Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft told court.

A sample from Shingoose was sent in February of this year to gather more definitive information. It was determined Shingoose's DNA was found on a cigarette butt collected from Skibicki's home, but was not a match for the sample from the jacket.

The Crown has not proposed Skibicki killed Shingoose and does not believe there are additional victims.

Police still consider her missing.

Court also heard Skibicki was unable to identify Myran to police. In September 2022, her family reported her missing.

Police collected DNA from Myran's mother and in November of that year Célestin was able to confirm it was a match to samples taken from Skibicki's home that belong to Myran.

Also Tuesday, the Crown requested Skibicki undergo a mental health assessment.

Vanderhooft told Chief Justice Glenn Joyal the prosecutors requested an assessment to gather additional information after defence lawyers submitted their own expert opinion along with Skibicki's medical records.

Skibicki's lawyers opposed the motion saying it was not in the best interest of their client.

"I have a report available for the court," Leonard Tailleur said referencing the mental health assessment obtained by the defence.

Joyal said that was not enough of a reason and sided with the Crown ordering the assessment take place this weekend.

The federal government has a support line for those affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls: 1-844-413-6649. The Hope for Wellness Helpline, with support in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut, is also available to all Indigenous people in Canada: 1-855-242-3310.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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