June 25th, 2024

Circumstances of teen’s death heard at start of murder trial

By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on February 22, 2023.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

Sometime before 10 p.m. on July 27, 2020, the body of 16-year-old Tregan Crow Eagle was found in a small thicket of shrubs near the wastewater settling pond on the Piikani Nation.

The body, discovered during a search by family and friends, was covered under a blue tarp, and was near the garbage dump about half a kilometre east of the Brocket townsite.

One of the searchers, Piikani Elder Mills Big Bull, approached the tarp and said a prayer before backing away, and police were notified of the discovery. Two days later a medical examiner reported Crow Eagle had died of “multiple sharp force injuries.”

The circumstances surrounding Crow Eagle’s death and the discovery of his body were admitted into evidence Tuesday in Lethbridge Court of King’s Bench during the start of a four-week trial for Dustin Big Bull, who is charged with second-degree murder and causing an indignity to human remains.

The evidence was submitted as part of an agreed statement of facts between the Crown and defence, which provides the judge with certain undisputed facts that will not have to be proven during trial.

Crown prosecutor Lisa Weich reviewed the facts for nearly 90 minutes, while the accused listened passively only a few metres away in the prisoners’ box.

The Crown is expected to present several hours of video and audio evidence during the course of its case, and during this week call all of its civilian witnesses, most of them from the Piikani Nation and some from as far away as Calgary.

During the second week police officers are expected to testify during a voluntariness voir dire – mini trial within a trial – to determine whether statements the accused gave police are admissible and should be admitted to the trial proper.

Police officers involved in executing a search warrant at Big Bull’s residence will testify during the third week of the trial, as well as any civilian witnesses who were unable to testify earlier in the trial. Several medical experts, including the medical examiner and a DNA analyst, are also scheduled to testify during the third week.

On March 13 a number of witnesses from the Lethbridge Correctional Centre will testify, followed by anyone else still remaining on the Crown’s list, who will testify March 14 and 15. The final two days are earmarked for the defence’s case.

During her recital of the agreed statement of facts, Weich said Crow Eagle was last seen on July 22, 2020, and his mother called police the following day after Crow Eagle had not returned to his home or that of his grandparents.

On July 24, while conducting a missing person investigation, a police officer had an unrecorded conversation with Big Bull. That conversation, Weich pointed out, will be part of the voir dire next week, as will statements Big Bull made to police after he was arrested.

“The Crown seeks to admit the accused’s statements to police because they constitute confessions and admissions to the offences before the court,” Weich said.

Weich said that on Nov. 20, 2020, while in custody at the Lethbridge Correctional Centre, Big Bull attempted to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a razor, and he was taken to the hospital. The actions by LCC staff following the attempted suicide will provide evidence during a defence Charter voir dire, if one is granted.

Following protocal after an attempted suicide, jail staff searched Big Bull’s cell and found a number of pieces of paper on which Big Bull had written. Staff also reviewed the accused’s telephone calls, and the evidence from both were seized by police. The evidence will also be part of a defence voir dire.

Weich said the Crown seeks to admit the evidence because it contains confessions and admissions made by the accused.

The Crown did not call any witnesses on the first day of trial, although three of them were scheduled to testify. The court waited until the afternoon, but when they still hadn’t shown up, Madam Justice Johanna Price issued witness warrants.

The trial is scheduled to continue today with testimony by police and civilian witnesses for the Crown.

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