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'It's over for us:' Retrial in Candace Derksen's death ends in acquittal

Last Updated Oct 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm EST

Wilma and Cliff Derksen leave the Winnipeg courthouse Wednesday, Oct.18, 2017 after Mark Edward Grant was found not guilty of killing the Derksen's daughter, Candace, in 1984. The Derksens say after 33 years of uncertainty and legal hearings, they hope the Crown does not appeal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Lambert

WINNIPEG – The killing of a Winnipeg teenager 33 years ago that gripped the Manitoba capital is once again an open legal question.

Mark Edward Grant, a man with a long criminal history originally convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Candace Derksen, was found not guilty Wednesday in a new trial that followed an appeal.

“After 10 years of being in custody for a crime he didn’t commit, Mr. Grant is crying and grateful that the system has worked,” Grant’s lawyer, Saul Simmonds, said outside court.

The victim’s parents, Cliff and Wilma Derksen, continue to believe Grant killed their daughter but after three decades, they do not want the Crown to appeal Wednesday’s decision.

“It’s been 33 years and this just means it’s over for us,” Wilma Derksen said.

“This doesn’t change anything about Candace. It doesn’t change at all. Candace was murdered … and we know that her legacy now continues to live. And that’s what’s important to us.”

Candace Derksen disappeared while walking home from school in November 1984, at the age of 13.

A large public search was launched and six weeks later, her frozen body was found in an industrial shed. Her feet and hands had been bound with twine. The cause of death was hypothermia.

For years, no one was charged and it looked like the case would never be solved.

In 2007, Grant was arrested following DNA testing that the Crown argued linked him to the twine and hairs found on Candace’s body. Grant, now 54, was unknown to the Derksen family and had a criminal record that included sexual assaults.

He was kept in custody after his arrest, convicted of second-degree murder in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

But that conviction was overturned in 2013 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the trial judge erred in not allowing Grant’s defence to present evidence that pointed to another possible killer — an unidentified person who tied up a 12-year-old girl in another part of Winnipeg in 1985, while Grant was in custody on another matter.

In the retrial earlier this year, court heard that DNA samples had deteriorated in the time between Derksen’s death and Grant’s first trial.

Grant’s lawyer, Saul Simmonds, said in his closing arguments that DNA samples the Crown had relied on were so tiny as to be infinitesimal, and could be from one of the many people who had visited the shed where Derksen’s body was found.

On Wednesday, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Simonsen agreed with the defence and concluded the DNA evidence was flawed.

“The DNA testing results and conclusions are fraught with difficulty,” Simonsen wrote in her 103-page decision.

Simonsen also questioned Crown witness testimony from Tonia Lachance, a friend of Grant’s ex-girlfriend, who quoted him as saying: “I killed her,” and later: “No, I didn’t. I’m just kidding.”

Lachance also said Grant told her: “Keep your mouth shut or I’ll do to you what I did to Candace.”

Simonsen agreed with the defence that Lachance’s testimony was unreliable, partly because she did not come forward until 2007.

The Derksens have worked on several projects in their daughter’s name, including Candace House, a home-like resource centre for victims of crime being built a short walk from the Winnipeg court house.

The couple was planning to light 33 candles Wednesday evening to mark each year that has passed since Candace’s death.

“Our job is just to live our lives in truth as best we can and enjoy what we’ve got,” Wilma Derksen said.

“Because we’ve got lots.”