An Edmonton man has been acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, who was thrown off a bridge east of Edmonton nearly three years ago.
Jermaine Steinhauer was accused of killing Lindsay Jackson, a 25-year-old woman from Saddle Creek First Nation who died in September 2018, leaving behind four children.
A man and woman already convicted in the killing could not be trusted to provide an accurate account of Steinhauer's alleged role, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Larry Ackerl said in his June 29 decision.
Evidence provided by Julian Whiskeyjack and Jena Hunter — both convicted of first-degree murder in Jackson's killing — was "profoundly dishonest," Ackerl said.
"Their testimony about what occurred on the bridge dramatically conflicts," the judge said.
"Each accused the other of assisting Steinhauer while claiming innocence. This divide is best, if not only, reconciled by concluding one or both of Hunter and Whiskeyjack are deliberately lying under oath."
'Profoundly dishonest and unreliable'
Jackson was thrown from the Duvernay Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River on Sept. 21, 2018. Ten days later, her body was pulled from the river near the hamlet of Duvernay, 145 kilometres east of Edmonton.
An autopsy found evidence of drowning but the cause of death was listed as undetermined due to the deterioration of her remains.
Whiskeyjack and Hunter, who were a couple at the time of the killing, were convicted of first-degree murder in Jackson's death after they were tried together in March of this year. Both are appealing their convictions.
They were key witnesses for the Crown in Steinhauer's trial, held in St. Paul over three days in May.
"I reject the evidence of both Hunter and Whiskeyjack as being profoundly dishonest and unreliable save for it placing the accused in Ms. Jackson's company the night of her murder," Ackerl said in his decision.
"That association evidence, considered together with all other accepted trial evidence, does not satisfy the Crown onus of proving the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
At Steinhauer's trial, Whiskeyjack and Hunter testified that the two couples were drinking at a house party on the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, 180 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, when the night turned violent.
Both said Steinhauer and the victim got into an argument and all four left in Whiskeyjack's truck, with Steinhauer directing them to drive to the nearby bridge.
Both testified that once they crossed the bridge, Steinhauer ordered them to turn around. Both said the truck stopped on the bridge and that Jackson got out and ran.
Whiskeyjack said his girlfriend began beating Jackson until she fell unconscious, while Steinhauer watched. Hunter testified Steinhauer was the one who assaulted Jackson.
Both agreed Steinhauer pointed a gun at Jackson's head. Whiskeyjack said he heard two clicks but the gun didn't fire.
Whiskeyjack and Hunter both said Steinhauer helped drag Jackson to the bridge railing. They denied helping drag her to the railing themselves, but implicated each other.
Ackerl noted that both killers were binge-drinking and high on cocaine, and their ability to see what Steinhauer did to Jackson on the bridge was hampered by "darkness and distance."
'Calculated, self-serving deception'
In his closing arguments, Crown prosecutor Jeff Rudiak conceded that Hunter and Whiskeyjack were unsavoury witnesses, but argued they agreed on two main points: that Steinhauer aimed the gun and dragged the victim's body over the railing.
Allan Fay, Steinhauer's defence lawyer, urged Ackerl to reject the evidence given by Whiskeyjack and Hunter because there was no independent corroboration of their testimony.
Fay said there were too many lies to decipher the truth. Ackerl agreed.
Whiskeyjack and Hunter "repeatedly and starkly" disagreed on the details, the judge said in his decision.
"Their differences are material," he said. "They cannot be explained by inattention, misappreciation or inadvertence. Rather, they arise from the calculated, self-serving deception of both witnesses.
"Each purposefully lied about what occurred on the bridge that night."