Bail hearing for Saskatchewan sisters who believe they were wrongfully convicted

Bail hearing for Saskatchewan sisters who believe they were wrongfully convicted

Two Saskatchewan sisters have spent nearly 30 years in prison for say they were wrongfully convicted. They both held an eagle feather while they testified in a courtroom during a bail hearing Tuesday.

Odelia Quewezance speaks to media outside the Court of King’s Bench in Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Odelia Quewezance speaks to media outside the Court of King’s Bench in Yorkton, Sask. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. Lawyers for two women who spent nearly 30 years in prison are to argue why they should be released while they await the results of a federal conviction review at the second day of a bail hearing. Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder in the death of 70-year-old Saskatchewan farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

“I am a strong believer in my prayers and my culture,” Odelia Quewezance said before the hearing in Yorkton, Sask.

“I’m nervous, but I feel strong in my heart. I have nothing to hide.”

In 1994, Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 70-year-old Anthony Joseph Dolff, near Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

Their lawyers are asking for conditional releases while their case is undergoing a federal conviction review. The federal Justice Department began the review last year, saying there may be a reasonable conclusion there was a miscarriage of justice.

The sisters from the Keeseekoose First Nation maintained their innocence and another person, confessed to the killing.

The Crown prosecutor asked Odelia Quewezance about her criminal record and previous times she breached conditions of parole or temporary release.

“Today I’m admitting I struggled with addiction, I struggled with intergenerational trauma,” Odelia Quewezance told court.

“Today I’m here and I’m proud of myself.”

She talked about accessing treatment and counselling and said she’s committed to being a mother to her children. She is looking to be released to live with her partner and twin daughters in Saskatchewan.

“My family, that’s what keeps me going,” she said.

Odelia Quewezance was 20 years old and her sister was 18 when the two were arrested in 1993.

The Supreme Court of Canada declined an appeal hearing three years later.

Their lawyer, James Lockyer, said the sisters were present when Dolff was killed, but the youth who confessed to the killing testified the sisters were not involved.

“The two sisters, they need their lives back,” he previously said in an interview.

The elder sister received day parole last year with strict conditions. She is currently staying at the YWCA in Regina and said it’s difficult being around others in the middle of addiction.

Nerissa Quewezance’s parole was denied and she remained behind bars in Fraser Valley Institution for Women in British Columbia.

The Crown prosecutor also questioned Nerissa Quewezance about instances she didn’t follow parole conditions when she was given temporary releases. She admitted she also battled addiction.

Nerissa Quewezance told court it was partially linked to “trauma for being incarcerated for 30 years.” She is looking to stay with Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin in his Saskatoon home if she gets conditional release.

Lockyer asked her how being institutionalized all those years has impacted her behaviour.

“It affects my way of thinking, my thoughts, my actions,” Nerissa Quewezance told court. “I want to have my freedom back that was taken away.”

The judge told court that he would be reserving his decision for a later date following the bail hearings.

When the criminal conviction review process is over, a report and legal advice will be prepared for the federal justice minister. The minister can then order a new trial or appeal, or dismiss the application if he is not convinced there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Jesse Straightnose, who was four years old when his aunts were convicted, said it has had a huge effect on the whole family.

Straightnose said outside court that Odelia Quewezance was able to visit his family recently for the first time.

“I hugged her and I didn’t let her go for the longest time,” Straightnose said. “I have faith.”

Source: The Canadian Press – Kelly Geraldine Malone 

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