Man accused in Cooper Nemeth murder to go straight to trial

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Man accused in Cooper Nemeth murder to go straight to trial

The man charged with the second degree murder of Cooper Nemeth is headed straight to trial.

A preliminary inquiry was originally scheduled to take place in July for Nicholas Bell Wright, 23, but he appeared in court Thursday and was directly indicted.

Manitoba Justice granted the indictment at the Crown's request.

"It's a very unique, rare, unusual step; it's not commonly sought," said Scott Newman, spokesperson for the Criminal Defence Lawyers of Manitoba.

"If it were to become something common, defence lawyers would obviously be very concerned about that because it's a way to shortcut past procedural safeguards against wrongful convictions."

The body of 17-year-old Nemeth was found Feb. 20, 2016, behind a house on Bayne Crescent in the city's East Kildonan area.

Bell-Wright was arrested the following morning in The Maples neighbourhood of Winnipeg. He was charged with second-degree murder.

Police say Nemeth died Feb. 14, the same day he was last seen by friends, after leaving a house party.

According to Newman, the Crown can request a direct indictment from Manitoba Justice for reasons including, but not limited to, the health, safety and security of witnesses, issues caused by a delay before trial and loss of evidence.

"It allows the prosecution to bypass preliminary testing of the evidence to ensure there's enough evidence to go before a jury, and it bypasses the opportunity for defence council to test some of the evidence that would be called in a trial before a jury," said Newman.

While he said fewer than twelve cases have resulted in a direct indictment in the past year, "hundreds upon hundreds" of cases do receive a preliminary inquiry.

"It's ironic that the cases that these are most likely to be used in are the ones that are the most serious, where you'd think that the procedural safeguards of a preliminary inquiry are most important," he said. 

When reached by the CBC, Crown Prosecutor Michael Himmelman did not reveal the reason for seeking the direct indictment.

Cooper Nemeth's family declined to comment.

Bell-Wright will appear in court again on April 12 for the setting of a pre-trial conference. Trial dates will be scheduled then or following that appearance, according to Himmelman.

Bell-Wright's lawyer did not reply to the CBC's request for comment.

Last July, a ruling by the Supreme Court set new rules for an accused's right to be tried within a reasonable time.

According to the ruling, cases before superior courts must be completed within 30 months of charges being laid.

Provincial court trials must be completed within 18 months of charges being laid, but may be extended to 30 months if there is a preliminary inquiry.

Since the ruling, Manitoba defence lawyers in more than two dozen criminal cases ranging from sexual assault to bank robbery have asked for their cases to be stayed, citing unacceptable delays in getting to trial.