Greg Fertuck, who is on trial for first-degree murder in connection with his estranged wife's death, has decided to defend himself in court, against the advice of legal experts.
"I feel that I'm better off representing myself," Fertuck said at a case management hearing on Friday.
Fertuck is accused of shooting Sheree Fertruck and hiding her body. She disappeared on Dec. 7, 2015, after heading to work at a gravel pit east of Kenaston, Sask. Her body has never been found.
Greg Fertuck was arrested in 2019, after he allegedly described the murder to undercover police officers, court has previously heard.
Justice Richard Danyliuk is presiding over the trial, which began in 2021 at Court of King's Bench in Saskatoon.
Lawyers Morris Bodnar and Mike Nolin represented Fertuck for the majority of the trial, but withdrew from the case last month, after learning Fertuck had filed formal complaints against them with the Law Society of Saskatchewan — apparently questioning their competence and ability to represent him.
Following that, the court appointed lawyer Brent Little as independent legal counsel to help Fertuck find new representation — a difficult task given the complexity of the case and volume of evidence.
Little told Danyliuk on Friday that he had not been able to convince Fertuck to proceed with a lawyer, despite his best efforts.
Danyliuk told Fertuck he has the right to represent himself, but emphasized the valuable legal expertise of lawyers.
"I think it is incumbent on me to advise you that in a case such as this, it is my view that it would be highly advisable for you to proceed with a lawyer," the judge said.
High stakes for Fertuck
Fertuck is presumed innocent unless the Crown can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but the consequences couldn't be higher for a man accused of murder, the judge warned.
"If convicted, it's a life sentence, and many people in many walks of life frequently mistake that with, 'Well, that's a 25-year sentence for first-degree [murder],'" Danyliuk said.
"No. It is in fact a life sentence. Twenty-five years is simply the period for which you are ineligible to apply for parole.… Even if out, you are never free from conditions."
Fertuck remained steadfast in his choice.
Danyliuk ordered the court to send Fertuck a handbook for self-represented people, published by the Canadian Judicial Council, and to provide the Crown's disclosure (the information prosecutors have on the case).
He said he was considering appointing an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" — an independent individual who could offer legal guidance to Fertuck or draw attention to issues, evidence and case law that Fertuck might miss.
Fertuck was agreeable to the idea.
"[That] sounds like a very good suggestion, my lord," Fertuck said. "I'm under the impression that the truth never perishes. That's why I want to represent myself."
Danyliuk said he believes in the justice system's ability to determine truth.
"At their core, trials remain quests for truth, so I think you and I are on the same page there," the judge said.
"That's what I'm after and that quest must be conducted through a process that is fair to all involved."
Judge still must decide on evidence
The Crown's evidence so far has been called within a series of voir dires — essentially, trials within trials, typically held to determine the admissibility of evidence.
The evidence presented in those voir dires includes Greg's statements made to undercover officers during an elaborate operation, known as a "Mr. Big" sting — a controversial tactic used to elicit information and confessions from suspects.
Danyliuk still needs to rule on what evidence from the voir dires will be applied to the trial proper as evidence.
His ruling has been delayed several times, most recently because of Fertuck's representation issues. The lawyers were preparing to submit arguments on the voir dires when his complaints came to light.
Fertuck has been in jail, remanded to custody, since his arrest in 2019. He expressed frustration on Friday, saying his lawyers did not do enough to get him out on bail or address his allegations that undercover officers lied during their testimony.
"I'm an innocent victim who's been incarcerated for 21 hours a day, in a six by 10 — I call it a dog cell — for going on four years," Fertuck said on Friday.
The matter was adjourned until Dec. 20.