WINNIPEG – The focus of the Mark Grant murder retrial is moving to DNA evidence, a huge part of the crown’s case.
Grant has pleaded not guilty to second degree murder in the 1984 killing of Candace Derksen. Derksen, 13, was found dead in a shed weeks later. Her body was frozen with her wrists and ankles bound by twine. She disappeared while walking home from school.
A former Winnipeg Police crime analyst named John Burchill testified Thursday about reviewing the Derksen case in the late 1990’s.
He told court about early testing done in 1996 on pieces of gum found in the shed as well as hair and fingernail scrapings. Testing found unidentified male DNA on a piece of gum.
He told court DNA testing in Canada became “more powerful” in the early 2000’s. He asked the RCMP lab to do some re-testing. New tests on the gum found two different male DNA profiles on the gum, one on each piece. DNA matching Derksen herself was found on a third piece of gum.
Burchill also requested testing on items including Derksen’s jeans, jacket and gloves, hair, a lip swab and then twine used to bind Derksen’s wrists and ankles. He told court he hoped to find a lead that would bring the case back to the attention of the homicide unit.
Hair samples were tested in 2001 but no human DNA could be found using those tests.
Under cross examination, Burchill was questioned by defence lawyers about how many people may have handled the evidence which was tested and how evidence was sealed while being stored.
Several additional DNA experts are slated to testify during the trial. DNA evidence was eventually used to arrest Grant in 2007.
He was convicted in 2011 but that conviction was overturned following a lengthy appeal by his lawyers.
Letters Sent to CJOB Form Part of Defence
Grant’s lawyers read from letters sent to former 680 CJOB host Peter Warren in 1987.
They form part of an application to introduce a theory suggesting someone other than Grant could have killed Derksen.
Both sides are locked in what is called a “voir dire”, a sort of mini trial within the main trial, to determine whether the “third party suspect” theory will be admissible.
Grant’s lawyers were not allowed to tell the jury about their theory in the previous trial, in 2011, and that is one of the key reasons they were successful in getting the conviction overturned.
The letters appeared to relate to the Derksen case and reference a “girl from East Kildonan”. It’s unclear who they were written by.
Previously, Grant’s lawyers have pointed to a kidnapping case from weeks after Derksen’s body was discovered. A girl was allegedly kidnapped and tied up not far from the Derksen crime scene. She was found in a box car when a passerby heard screaming.
A police officer who investigated both cases admitted there were “some similarities.”
Again, Grant’s lawyers were not allowed to mention the second case to the jury during the previous trial.
The judge in this case has not yet decided whether any “third party suspect” evidence will be deemed admissible and play a role in her decision on a verdict.