In the trial for the killing of Evan Bear, all seem agreed on one thing: Robyn Ermine’s fate will hinge on what the jury believes she was thinking when she struck the fatal blow.
It may also come down to their view of the man she killed.
The jury heard closing arguments Tuesday in Ermine’s second-degree murder trial. She is accused in connection with the 2015 death of her fiancé, Evan Bear, in their home on Muskoday First Nation. Her actions are not really in dispute. She swung an object that pierced Bear’s neck, severing a major artery and causing him to bleed to death.
To the defence, though, she is a battered woman who was in fear for her life.
“She feared for her safety,” said her lawyer, Adam Masiowski. “If she didn’t do what she did, she could very well be the one deceased.”
To the Crown, she’s an aggressive criminal who wanted to win a fight.
Masiowski said the jury should focus on two main points: whether Evan Bear had his hands around Ermine’s throat when she swung at him, and whether she used reasonable force to resist.
He relied on his client’s testimony. On Monday, she told the court that an argument with Bear became physical, and escalated to the point where he began choking her. When she grabbed something off the counter and swung, she said, she was scared.
“The Crown, during cross-examination, did not challenge her evidence that she was being choked,” he said. “If you accept that she was being choked and couldn’t breathe, then almost any degree of force would be reasonable.”
What’s more, he added, the forensic examiner testified that “almost no force would be required to make this wound.”
Masiowski reminded the jury that both Ermine and her mother provided evidence that Bear was abusive on prior occasions. He argued that Bear’s response to the stabbing only seems to justify Ermine’s fears
“Consider the actions of the deceased after he was stabbed. Did he attempt to seek immediate medical attention? No, he tackled his fiancee and bashed her head into the floor,” Masiowski said. “One could argue that she didn’t use enough force.”
Prosecutor Jeff Lubyk admitted that the jury “cannot see into the mind of the accused.” But to test the Masiowski’s self-defence theory, he suggested, they’ll need to try.
“You must focus on the accused’s state of mind when the crime occurred,” he said. “Ms. Ermine did not flee, she did not leave, or go to other areas of the house. Ms. Ermine persisted in fighting Evan until she reached for an object.”
No one knows what that object was. Ermine claims she thought she grabbed a knife sharpener, while forensic evidence suggests it was probably a knife. Lubyk said that really doesn’t matter. Either way, he argued, Ermine should have known what would result.
“People typically intend the natural consequences of their actions,” he said. “And common sense tells us that when a person stabs another person, they mean to cause their death.”
Lubyk raced through his evidence, presenting with hardly a breath the testimony of an eyewitness, a pathologist, several police officers and the accused. On two occasions, Justice Scherman asked him to slow down.
The prosecutor argued that only some of that evidence is reliable.
“You have to look at Robyn Ermine’s evidence cautiously because she has reason to present her evidence in the most positive light.”
But his key eyewitness, Shelinda Vallier, had no reason to lie, Lubyk claimed. She had “no axe to grind” with Ermine, and never testified to seeing Bear lay his hands around her neck.
Both lawyers told the jury that they are free to find Ermine guilty of manslaughter, instead of murder. That turns on intent: did she mean to cause Bear’s death when she struck him – or was she so reckless that she simply didn’t care? Masiowski said no to both.
He tried to derail Crown evidence that could hint at a guilty mind: testimony that Ermine mopped the floor while Bear lay dying, and then fled the home before authorities arrived.
“We all heard the 911 tape,” Masiowski said. “We all heard her voice on that, and I would suggest that she’s hysterical… the mopping can be explained away by her irrational behaviour in the face of tragedy.”
And no one denies that the events of February 21, 2015, were a tragedy for everyone in that house.
“It appears that Evan Bear had some prospects in his life,” Masiowski said. “It’s tragic that was all taken away from him.”
He said that February morning has stayed with his client, who is taking medication for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“She was then, and is now, distraught for what occurred.”
Justice Scherman plans to give his instructions to the jury on Wednesday morning. He will then send them away to reach a verdict. If found guilty of second-degree murder, Ermine will receive an automatic life-sentence – with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.