The Globe and Mail, Nov 30, 2015
A 21-year-old man has pleaded guilty to last year’s attack on a Winnipeg teen, admitting his role in the nearly fatal assault that turned the young woman into a voice for Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women.
In provincial court in the Manitoba capital on Monday, Justin Hudson of Poplar River First Nation pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault in relation to the Nov. 8, 2014, attack on the young woman and a separate assault hours later on a second indigenous woman. He had been charged with attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon.
The young woman’s name is protected by a publication ban ordered by the court on Monday, as is the second victim’s.
The young woman and her family were not present for the plea, but the second victim, a 24-year-old, was there. She declined to comment before the proceedings – the first she has attended since Mr. Hudson was charged.
Mr. Hudson, who appeared in court with chin-length brown hair and a goatee and wearing a white T-shirt, seemed to make eye contact with the 24-year-old woman. He answered “yeah” when asked if he was pleading guilty to the two counts. He also said “no one forced” him to admit his crimes. As he left the small courtroom, he nodded to his brother and aunt who were there to support him.
An 18-year-old co-accused who cannot be named because he was a minor at the time of the offence, is in custody. No plea has been entered in his case. Prosecutor Jennifer Comack said in an e-mail a direct indictment has been preferred, meaning that if the case goes to trial, there will be no preliminary inquiry. She also confirmed the Crown will seek an adult sentence if he is convicted.
The young woman, now 17, was attacked on a footpath under a Winnipeg bridge and left for dead. Just days later, with her well-being hanging in the balance, her family issued a clarion call for Canada to do more to protect its indigenous children and youth. The young woman is today an advocate for a national inquiry into this country’s more than 1,100 missing and murdered indigenous women – a probe the Liberal government has said it will launch by the summer.
The case also provoked a conversation about identifying victims of sexual assault after police took the rare, controversial step of releasing the young woman’s name, with her family’s permission, in the hopes of spurring investigative leads. Police have said the move contributed to the swift arrests.
Coming one year after the gruesome attack, Monday’s proceedings laid bare the fullest account yet of a set of crimes that captured the nation’s attention. The evidence included surveillance footage, DNA, witness accounts and Mr. Hudson’s own admissions.
The court heard that Mr. Hudson and his co-accused set out from the Hudson family home around 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 of last year to celebrate the teen’s 17th birthday. The teen and Mr. Hudson, who said he drank about five or six beers before going out, planned to break into cars using tools they carried in a backpack, Crown attorney Debbie Buors said, reading aloud the agreed statement of facts. However, they found the young woman in the downtown area, lured her away from her friends and led her to a footpath under a bridge near the Assiniboine River around 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2014.
The court heard they had initially planned to rob her, but decided to sexually assault her as well. The teen and Mr. Hudson, who was said to have no recollection of some of the details but did not dispute them, hit and stomped on the young woman, who fought back until she passed out, the court heard. While she was unconscious, the two accused took turns sexually assaulting her.
She came to, but was knocked out again, the Crown said. The young woman ended up in the frigid river waters and crawled out after drifting about 100 metres. Mr. Hudson and the teen then assaulted her again, this time with a hammer, the court heard. She was found, half naked and nearly dead, by a passerby around 7 a.m. that day.
The Crown said Mr. Hudson and the teen encountered their second victim in the Portage Avenue area around 2:30 a.m. The woman was hit in the head twice with a bat and forced to remove her clothes. She was sexually assaulted in an alleyway by both men, sometimes simultaneously, the court heard. At one point, the Crown recounted that one of the men said, “I like this one, let’s keep her for a while.”
Mr. Hudson and the teen eventually told the woman she could go. She made her way to her brother’s home and called police, who arrived and collected DNA. Police also collected DNA and the hammer from the river path where the first victim was assaulted, the court heard.
Monday’s plea was months in the making. In the summer, Mr. Hudson’s legal-aid lawyer told a judge that there had been “substantial movement towards a resolution” on the case. “I can tell the court … it’s going to be a guilty plea,” Amanda Sansregret said on July 27, according to official court audio accessed by The Globe and Mail. She also said it “took a long time for all the DNA and all the forensics to come in” but that “we’ve been working toward a resolution since day one.”
The court heard details on Monday related to the hours after the attack, including that the teen arrived back at the Hudson home wearing different shoes – white ones he had stolen from the young woman, it turned out – with blood on them. The court heard he removed the laces and cleaned them after Mr. Hudson’s mother confronted him about the blood stains.
The pair told relatives at the home they had “stomped a guy,” but when pressed, Mr. Hudson warned his mother to be quiet or he would do to her what he did to a woman the night prior, the court heard.
This led his sister to call the police. Mr. Hudson fled but was arrested on Nov. 11 around 4 p.m. at his aunt’s home. He contacted legal counsel and was interviewed by the Winnipeg Police Service’s homicide unit. “After some time and after not being forthright, Hudson admitted his involvement” in the two attacks and also implicated the co-accused, the Crown said. An hour later, the teen was arrested at his cousin’s home. “[He] did not make any admissions, but did state he was sorry and felt guilty several times,” the Crown said. “He also said he would agree with whatever Justin Hudson said.”
A date has not yet been set for the sentencing of Mr. Hudson, who will be the subject of a Gladue report – a pre-sentencing document that allows the courts to consider an aboriginal defendant’s background and the impact of the historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples.