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Pamela Jean George of the Sakimay First Nation was found face down in a ditch west of the city of Regina on the morning of April 18, 1995. The 28-year-old mother of two was the victim of a tragic and violent homicide. Steven Tyler Kummerfield, 20 years old, and Alexander Dennis Ternowetsky, 19 years old, were charged with first degree murder in her death.
According to Kummerfield's testimony, he and Ternowetsky met in the evening of April 17, 1995 for drinks. They first shared a nearly full 40-ounce bottle of Southern Comfort. After 11 p.m., they picked up a 12-pack of high alcohol beer from a downtown beer outlet.
While Kummerfield testified that their only plan was to drink that evening, they did look for a prostitute. With Ternowetsky in the trunk, Kummerfield picked up Pamela George and drove out on a gravel road to a spot near the airport.
Kummerfield then let Ternowetsky out of the trunk. At this time, Pamela George started to scream and tried to escape. The two men caught her and returned her to the car where, according to Kummerfield, they had oral sex. They then proceeded to beat her.
Dr Modesto Escanlar, who testified for the Crown, described her injuries as being consistent with blows from a blunt object. He stated that the beating gave Pamela George a broken nose, swollen eyes and hand, cuts on her face and lips and numerous bruises that covered her upper body especially her head.
On April 19, 1995, Tyler Stuart, a friend of Kummerfield, asked him what he had done the night before. Stuart says the Kummerfield replied, "Not much. We drove around, got drunk and killed this chick." Under cross examination, Stuart qualified the statement by saying, "I think we killed her." He also testified that Kummerfield told him they threatened to kill Pamela George if she refused to have sex with them.
Stuart also related a telephone call from Ternowetsky and said his friend told him, "She deserved it. She was an Indian." In a later telephone call, Ternowetsky told him "he was real drunk and couldn't remember a lot of it."
Ternowetsky's lawyer, Aaron Fox, suggested to the court that either someone else killed
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Vice-Chief Lindsay Cyr and Mike
Pinay addressing the vigil, that was
held outside of the Courthouse in
Photo by Shannon Avison
After the testimony of almost 30 witnesses, Mr Justice Ted Malone, of the Court of Queen's Bench told the all-white jury it would be "very dangerous' to convict Kummerfield and Ternowetsky of first degree murder.
He also told them to bear in mind that Pamela "indeed was a prostitute" when considering if she consented to having sex with the accused.
The jury returned a guilty verdict to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Public reaction to the verdict was swift and widespread. A coalition of Regina-based women's groups filed a formal complaint against Mr. Justice Malone to the Canadian Judicial Council for the inappropriate comments during his charge to the jury. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women said the judge's remarks "dehumanized women and trivialized the murder".
Blaine Favel, Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, called the verdict "one of the most unjust in Saskatchewan judicial history".
In an open viewpoint in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix (February 7, 1997) Chief Favel wrote, "There have been over 20 major justice studies over the past 15 years, including one in Saskatchewan in 1993, which have all come to the same conclusion. First Nations people experience racism and systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system both as accused and victim. In the Pamela George case, we have seen little respect for Aboriginal persons. First Nations will not have respect for the justice system until it is changed."
Immediately after the verdict, Chief Favel also wrote a letter to the Acting Attorney General, Eric Kline. He said, I submit to you, as the Attorney General for this province, to strongly consider appealing this case and, if successful, argue for a verdict that would be appropriate considering the circumstances under which it was committed so that justice is not only done but also seen to be done."
Once again, Indian people are victimized by a system that does not reflect our values and the lives of our people are devalued by the courts.
-Vice-Chief Lindsay Cyr
In his response to Chief Favel's letter the Honourable Eric Kline stated that the Prosecutions Branch had carefully reviewed the judge's charge to the jury. They have filed a Notice of Appeal with the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal against the acquittals on the first degree murder charge. The Yorkton Tribal Council was equally swift in their support of Sakimay First Nation Chief Lindsay Kaye. Tribal Council Representative Tony Cote, wrote
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National vigils were set up in Vancouver, Calgary, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sudbury, Toronto, and Halifax in protest of the verdict and the six and one-half year sentence. In Regina, FSIN Vice-Chief Lindsay Cyr reacted to the verdict and sentencing. He stated, "Once again, Indian people are victimized by a system that does not reflect our values and the lives of our people are devalued by the courts."
FSIN Vice-Chief Eugene Arcand, whose portfolio includes justice, stated in a letter to Eric Kline, "How is it ever suggested that the current justice process serves Aboriginal people if there is no input from us in its administration? Regardless of the intent, the appearance is one of a process that acts to control Indians but disregards Indian values."
On finding acceptable answers and remedies to injustices, real or perceived, Chief Favel commented, "We strive for equality and fairness in this society. However, when decisions such as the [Kummerfield/ Ternowetsky Case] are rendered, the need for distinct Indian processes becomes evident."
More recently, the FSIN Chiefs-in-Assembly directed the FSIN Executive "to work with the Saskatchewan Department of Justice, in conducting an inquiry into the Pamela George case".
A hearing date for the appeal of the acquittal of first degree murder of Pamela George will be heard in Regina in the coming weeks.