It was the most high-profile murder trial Prince George had seen in a generation, maybe longer. Three women and one 15-year-old girl bludgeoned to death with blunt tools—crimes a judge said aimed to "destroy and degrade."
Though Cody Alan Legebokoff was convicted in 2014—in a case his own defence team called a "slam dunk" for prosecutors—he's not allowing the case to rest. This week lawyers representing Legebokoff, known as one of Canada's youngest serial killers, laid out an appeal case that could see the northern British Columbia town relive the gruesome trial a second time.
Legebokoff had blood on his face and the backpack of Grade 10 student Loren Leslie in his truck when RCMP pulled him over for speeding on a highway between Vanderhoof and Fort St. James in November 2010. He told cops he was poaching deer with a friend, and used a pipe wrench to put one "out of its misery."
Police detained him under the Wildlife Act and called in a conservation officer, who discovered Leslie's body along a decommissioned logging road. She was found in the snow without shoes, pants or underwear, her throat slit and her head beaten.
Under interrogation, Legebokoff gave many changing accounts of what happened to Leslie, some of which police straight-up called "ridiculous." In one version, he said Leslie "just went fucking crazy" and beat herself with a pipe wrench, and stabbed herself in the neck.
Interrogation room video presented as evidence in court shows police brought in Legebokoff's girlfriend of several months to make sense of his story. "That was really wrenching for me," Prince George Citizen court reporter Mark Nielsen told VICE, describing Amy Voell as a "sweet young lady."
Voell listened to her boyfriend's account while RCMP insisted the girl could not have possibly inflicted multiple fatal injuries herself. The more he said, the more uncomfortable she became. "She was in a state of disbelief, then it's the twelve steps—acceptance and probably a bit of anger," said Nielsen, "that really, really hit home."
Legebokoff later confessed to hitting the girl "once or twice" with the wrench.
Over the next year, an RCMP investigation would link Legebokoff to three other murders. Police matched DNA for Jill Stuchenko, 35, Natasha Montgomery, 23, and Cynthia Maas, 35, to blood stains in Legebokoff's apartment and several weapons including an axe, multi-tool and pickaroon.
Leslie was different from the three earlier victims in a few key ways: the others were older, had struggled with addiction, and at times been sex workers. Her case reopened cold files.
Crown prosecutor Joseph Temple drew comparison between the women, stressing their vulnerability: "All four were apparently willing to meet with and associate with unknown males and accompany those males to the male's residence or motor vehicle to consume drugs or alcohol," Temple told the courtroom in September 2014.
Jill Stuchenko was a mother of six who worked for an escort service. Her body was found in a gravel pit on the outskirts of Prince George in October 2009. She died of blunt force trauma to the head; Legebokoff was just 19 years old at the time.
The courtroom heard testimony that Stuchenko made a visit to an addiction treatment centre days before she was killed. An acquaintance testified she wanted to get off crack, but had relapsed. More witnesses said Legebokoff bought, sold, and smoked crack.
Natasha Lynn Montgomery went missing in September 2010 and was never found, but investigators discovered her DNA all over Legebokoff's shirts, bedding, including on an axe. Montgomery had been released from Prince George Regional Correctional Centre a few weeks before she went missing. Legebokoff's defence lawyer zeroed in on the victims' drug debts and risky behaviour.
"He tried, Jim Heller tried," Nielsen said of the tactic, "and there was a big groan from the gallery. I imagine he was trying to make the case there's a lot of other people who could have just as easily killed three of the women." Legebokoff took the stand and argued he was present at the murders, but three other people—who he refused to name—were responsible for carrying out the attacks.
"Guys who give up names to cops are not treated with any respect in prison," Legebokoff told the judge, who in turn cited him for contempt. "I will not go to a federal penitentiary as a rat on three murder charges. That's not in the cards."
Under cross examination, prosecutor Temple flipped the claim back at him: "In prison, people who commit sexually motivated murders and assaults get even less respect than rats, don't they?" Legebokoff inexplicably maintained he had consensual sex with all the women before they died.
Cynthia Maas was found naked from the waist down in LC Gunn Park in Prince George in October 2010. Her body was heavily decomposed—"basically skeletonized" according to the autopsy expert who testified.
Maas left behind a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, cousin and niece. After Legebokoff was formally charged, her family released a statement, saying "she had a right to live, to overcome her struggles, to become strong, and to be the mother she wanted to be."
The trial was at a time when Canada's prime minister deflected calls for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Half of the victims were Aboriginal, their families watching over the proceedings.
"Judy Maas and Louanne Montgomery sat through the entire trial," Nielsen recalled. "Before every day Judy would go do a smudging ceremony to cleanse herself." A Globe and Mail investigation found Indigenous women are seven times more likely to be preyed on by serial killers.
Legebokoff was convicted on four counts of first-degree murder in September 2014, sentenced to life without parole for 25 years.
At his sentencing, Supreme Court Justice Glenn Parrett weighed in on the missing women's inquiry debate. "I am aware of comments being made to the effect that there is no need to embark on any formal inquiry into missing and murdered women, that policing is the solution to this problem," he said. "It is a mistake, in my view, to limit the seriousness of this issue and to pretend as some do, that policing is an answer when the circumstances of this case raise questions about the effectiveness of that process at times."
Judy Maas became a leading voice on this issue, and her calls for an inquiry were answered last fall.
Though victims' families cheered the judge and verdict, the ordeal left behind noticeable scars. Nielsen said Montgomery's still-missing body has taken a toll on her mother. "It's become an obsession, and it's really chewing her up," he said.
Closure may be pushed further off as Legebokoff is seeking a new trial, on grounds that the judge did not give adequate response to the accused's application to move proceedings to Vancouver. Justice Parrett released his reasons after sentencing in 2014, saying Legebokoff's counsel distorted evidence. His new lawyer argued that information should have been released immediately, and the delay could be perceived as prejudice.
Neither Crown counsel nor Legebokoff's new lawyers argued the defence team actually distorted evidence, only that the judge had a duty to report unethical practice.*
Whether that new trial is granted or not, observers say the verdict is unlikely to change. "There was forensic evidence everywhere. There was blood everywhere," Nielsen said. "So I didn't really have any doubt in my mind that he did it."
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*Story has been updated May 31, 2016.