Decision reserved in first-degree murder trial for death of 15-year-old girl in northern Alberta

·3 min read
A northern Alberta man is on trial for the first-degree murder of a 15-year-old girl. He also faces charges of sexual interference and interfering with a dead body. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)
A northern Alberta man is on trial for the first-degree murder of a 15-year-old girl. He also faces charges of sexual interference and interfering with a dead body. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This article contains details of child sexual abuse.

Prosecutors argue that a man whose DNA was found on the body of a teenage girl who had been missing for days should be convicted of first-degree murder in her death.

Closing arguments wrapped up in Peace River, Alta. late Thursday in a Court of King's Bench first-degree murder trial for Jason Alec Tallcree, 37, who is accused of killing a 15-year-old girl in 2020.

Tallcree is also charged with one count of sexual interference and one count of interfering with human remains.

The girl can't be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban on her identity. Her supporters filled the courtroom gallery.

During closing arguments, prosecutor James Sawa argued that circumstantial evidence is enough to convict Tallcree of murder.

"The accused took advantage of her. He had the opportunity, he was in the vicinity and it was his DNA," Sawa said Thursday.

Circumstantial case

During the trial, court heard from witnesses who last saw the girl sleeping on a bed in a hut in the remote community of John D'Or Prairie, on July 5, 2020. Prosecutors said all activity on her cellphone ceased that morning.

John D'Or Prairie is about 750 kilometres north of Edmonton. The community is home to members of the Little Red River Cree Nation.

On Thursday, Sawa pointed to the testimony of a witness who said Tallcree had arrived at the hut, and asked who the sleeping girl was. The witness said Tallcree then drove him home.

Sawa said that by July 7, 2020, concern for the girl's whereabouts was growing. She was reported missing to the RCMP on July 10, 2020. As police began to investigate, they twice spoke to Tallcree, who told them he didn't know her.

On July 12, 2020, a community search party discovered the girl's remains in a forested area, concealed in a beaver burrow. They were drawn to the area by crows circling overhead, Sawa said.

Sawa said the girl's pants were unbuttoned and her shirt and bra were pushed up. A medical examiner determined she had been strangled to death with what could have been a cord or an item of clothing.

She also had blunt force trauma injuries to her face.

Sawa said testing of male DNA found in the young girl's vagina matched Tallcree's.

Tallcree was arrested by Fort Vermilion RCMP in August 2020.

Sawa acknowledged that the evidence against Tallcree is circumstantial, but argued that there is enough evidence that Court of King's Bench Justice Wayne Renke could find him guilty of the murder.

Tallcree's defence lawyer did not call evidence during the trial. During his closing arguments, defence lawyer Ajay Juneja said that despite the DNA evidence, there are too many gaps in the circumstantial case, and that there just isn't enough evidence to convict his client of first-degree murder.

"There is no video, there are no direct observations, there is nothing that ties Mr. Tallcree to the place of the death, the time of the death," Juneja said.

Renke is expected to deliver his decision on Tuesday.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.