1st-degree murder verdict in death of northern Alberta teenager Roderica Ribbonleg

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1st-degree murder verdict in death of northern Alberta teenager Roderica Ribbonleg
Jason Tallcree has been found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering 15-year-old Roderica Ribbonleg of Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta. Sarah Ryan reports on the verdict the judge came to at a Peace River courthouse – Apr 4, 2023

WARNING: The details in this story are disturbing

A judge in Peace River has found northern Alberta man Jason Alec Tallcree guilty of first-degree murder, sexual interference, and interference with a body in the death of a teenage girl.

Roderica Ribbonleg was last seen on July 5, 2020, near John D’Or Prairie — a remote First Nations settlement about 700 kilometres almost due north of Edmonton that’s part of the Little Red River Cree Nation.

Court heard the 15-year-old stopped answering her phone and didn’t come home after saying she was going to meet some friends.

Ribbonleg was described as outgoing and artistic. She had dreams of going to college or university when she graduated — but that future was stripped from her.

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Ribbonleg was last seen alive July 5, sleeping in a rundown hut on the First Nation with no internet or phone service.

During the trial, a number of people testified they saw Ribbonleg at the outbuilding, with one person texting her after she’d left: “Did you make it home?”

The teen did not. She disappeared and was reported missing a few days later and all cell activity ceased.

An undated photo of Roderica Ribbonleg. Courtesy Tracey D'or

A week after she was last seen alive, an organized search party found her cell phone not too far from the hut.

Court heard search members saw crows circling, and followed them down a quadding trail a few kilometres away.

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That’s when search members found Ribbonleg’s body in a shallow grave in a beaver burrow and called the RCMP to secure the scene.

Birds had been picking at the teen’s badly beaten body. Court heard her clothes were askew.

An autopsy found she had been strangled to death — potentially with her own bra strap — and suffered blunt force trauma to her head.

There was evidence suggesting sexual assault.

A man’s DNA was found inside the young girl’s vagina and anus. Investigators eventually linked that DNA sample to Jason Alec Tallcree, who was 35 at the time and is now 37.

It wasn’t the first time the Alberta man was accused of killing and dumping the body of a woman in the woods.

In 2014, Tallcree was charged with second-degree murder and interfering with a body in the death of his common-law wife, a mother of three named Malena Loonskin.

But one year later, those charges were stayed.

A spokesperson for Alberta Justice said at that time, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service determined there was no longer a reasonable likelihood of conviction in the Loonskin case.

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Malena Loonskin, 26, was found dead near her home in John D’Or Prairie, AB. Supplied: RCMP

In Ribbonleg’s case, there was no proverbial smoking gun.

Instead, it was circumstantial evidence when taken all together, led Court of King’s Bench Justice Wayne Renke to his guilty verdicts in a Peace River courtroom two-and-a-half years later.

Court heard when RCMP asked Tallcree about Ribbonleg, he said he hadn’t heard of her — something the judge determined to be a lie.

Tallcree had been at the property where the teenage girl was last seen sleeping.

The judge ruled Jason Alec Tallcree sexually interfered with Ribbonleg in the course of murdering her, and then interfered with her body by burying it.

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It was standing room only as dozens of both Ribbonleg and Loonskin supporters, many dressed in red, packed the small courtroom Tuesday.

Together, three months after Ribbonleg’s death, they walked 127 kilometers from John D’Or Prairie to High Level, so Tallcree would see their faces at a previous court appearance.

Click to play video: '127-kilometre justice march for homicide victim Roderica Ribbon in northern Alberta'
127-kilometre justice march for homicide victim Roderica Ribbon in northern Alberta

On Tuesday, they cried together when the verdict was read.

“A whole lot of emotions,” explained Ribbonleg’s cousin, Tracey D’Or. “Mostly excitement, joy that we finally got the conviction we’ve been hoping for.”

“Definitely feels like justice has been served. We’ve been waiting a long time.”

D’Or said the families have been supporting one another through the court process.

“A whole lot of weigh lifted for both families. They’ve been with us throughout… They got their joyous moment as well.”

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She said it was very difficult to learn how her young cousin died.

“I actually didn’t want to know the details of how she went. But today in court I heard about it — it was tragic.”

First-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for 25 years. By then, Tallcree will be in his sixties.

An undated photo of of John D’Or Prairie resident Jason Alec Tallcree.
An undated photo of of John D’Or Prairie resident Jason Alec Tallcree. Supplied to Global News

“Having done this for nearly 20 years now and having been involved in over 45 homicides, this is the first time I’ve been involved in a case where there’s a first-degree murder conviction,” explained his lawyer, Ajay Juneja.

“It is, without question, the most serious charge in the criminal code of Canada.”

Juneja said he was surprised by the judge’s decision.

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“Based on the evidence, I was rather confident that the accused would be found not guilty… the case was entirely circumstantial.”

While Juneja had not yet had an opportunity to speak to his client before being interviewed by Global News, he said there is potential this case will come back before the courts.

“I would expect that, given the severity of the charge, that he would most likely be seeking to appeal it.”

The Ribbonleg family, Global News and Postmedia (The Edmonton Journal) challenged a publication ban requested by the Crown prosecutor James Sawa that prevented Ribbonleg from being identified as a victim of a sexual assault and because she was underage.

Ribbonleg’s mother told court she did not support the publication ban and it was subsequently removed. The rest of the family supported her.

“I want people to know about her, and what she has endured,” D’Or explained.

No date has been set for a sentencing hearing — that will determined on April 24  — but victim impact statements will be presented at that time.

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