Man charged in death of Alberta mother pleads not guilty to manslaughter

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Man charged in death of Alberta mother pleads not guilty to manslaughter
WATCH: The trial has started for the man accused in Billie Johnson’s death. Around 9:30. Christmas eve was the last time the mother of two was heard from. After that, calls went unanswered and text messages were left unread. The accused has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Sarah Komadina has more – Mar 20, 2023

The man accused of manslaughter in the death of Billie Johnson, a 30-year-old mother whose remains were found north of Edmonton in 2021, pleaded not guilty to the charge on Monday.

However, Kenneth Courtorielle did plead guilty to committing an indignity to a body and being unlawfully at large on the first day of his trail at the Edmonton Law Courts.

During opening statements at the juryless trial, court heard Johnson was in a relationship with Courtorielle and had been staying at his apartment near downtown Edmonton before she disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2020.

After Johnson vanished, her family, friends and other community members organized a search team that covered many kilometres of ground in the bitter cold and had people digging through snow in an effort to find her.

Court heard Monday that four months after Johnson’s disappearance, police were able to “defeat” a password on her phone and determined that it appeared she had travelled from Courtorielle’s apartment to an area about 45 minutes north of Edmonton. Police went to search that area and were successful in finding portions of her remains.

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READ MORE: Justice rally held outside of Edmonton court for slain mother of 2

Court heard Monday that during the day on Dec. 24, Johnson had been in and around the Edmonton area while Courtorielle went to Enoch Cree Nation to go ice skating and send time with family.

The Crown called Jennifer Nicole Cappo, its first witness in the trial, to testify on Monday. Cappo said she knew Johnson for about 10 years and they had a close relationship, like sisters. Cappo said she spent time with Johnson on the last day the mother of two was seen.

Click to play video: 'Memorial walk marks 1 year since Billie Johnson’s remains were found'
Memorial walk marks 1 year since Billie Johnson’s remains were found

Cappo said she went to Marless Johnson’s (Billie’s mother) house to meet up with Billie. The two went to the liquor store to buy beer and vodka. Cappos said they went back to Marless’ house to have drinks before Billie and her mother got into a verbal argument and Billie decided to leave.

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Cappo said she called Billie a cab, and she left around 7 p.m. that evening. Cappo said she arranged to meet Billie at her place later.

Cappo met up with another friend but said she and Billie kept talking and continued to plan to meet later at Billie’s home.

At around 10:30 p.m., Cappo said she was outside of Billie’s apartment and called her a few times but there was no answer. She texted her to ask her to let her in and told her she needed to use the bathroom.

Cappo said she also called out for Billie while she was outside the apartment but there was no answer.

READ MORE: Memorial walk marks 1 year since Billie Johnson’s remains were discovered

Cappo said the last text message she got from Billie came in at 9:36 p.m.

Cappo started to cry on Monday while she was talking about being outside of Billie’s apartment. She said no one was around her and it was quiet, and she never heard from Billie again.

Marless Johnson was in the courtroom on Monday. She sobbed when Cappo described the argument taking place between her and her daughter.

Marless said it was unlike Billie to not respond to calls, or to not post on social media.

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Marless Johnson is seen outside the Edmonton Law Courts with supporters on March 20, 2023. She was there for the first day of a trial for the man accused of manslaughter in the death of her daughter, Billie Johnson. Global News

Outside of court on Monday, Marless expressed disappointment with the crown prosecutor. She said shehas been left in the dark. She thought it would be a jury trial, but Courtorielle asked for a judge alone trial and the crown agreed.

Marless is also upset Courtorielle’s charges were downgraded from second-degree-murder to manslaughter.

“It’s a little much for me today, and it hurts. It’s like a kick in the face,” Marless said.

Click to play video: 'Billie Johnson’s sisters glad the Edmonton homicide victim has been found'
Billie Johnson’s sisters glad the Edmonton homicide victim has been found

Marless has been fighting for justice for her daughter since day one. She hired a private investigator, community and family members gathered to do their own search for Billie’s remains and Marless has held memorial walks to keep her daughter’s name alive.

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“When you’re a mother and you feel the first flutters of that baby, and then for somebody to come along and take your child away on your like that,” she said through tears.

“I’m over loaded with emotion, and I’m trying to be strong for my baby because this is a different kind of PTSD. No mother should have to suffer this way. She was my first born baby. I was a baby when I had her — we grew up together and now she is gone at the hand of somebody else.”

Marless plans to have a second memorial and justice walk for Billie on April 21. The day marks two years since Billie’s remains were discovered. It will start at 97 Street at the 7/11, and head south towards the legislature. She is inviting all families that are going through a court case.

“It’s a walk for justice.”

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