Judge to release bail decision Monday for Saulteaux sisters jailed for nearly 30 years

Nerissa Quewezance has a private bedroom ready for her at a home in Saskatoon if she is released Monday.

Nerissa, 48, and her sister, Odelia Quewezance, 51, were indicted on second-degree murder charges in 1994 for the death of Kamsack farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff.

Both sisters were present at his death and admitted to attacking him during their trial in the 1990s, but maintain they didn’t kill the 70-year-old man.

On Monday, Justice Donald Layh will decide at the Court of King’s Bench in Yorkton whether one or both of the sisters will be released on bail pending a ministerial review of their case. 

Incarcerated people can apply for a review when all avenues for appeal have been exhausted. When it is over, a report and legal advice will be prepared for the federal justice minister. The minister can then order a new trial or appeal, or dismiss the application if he is not convinced there has been a miscarriage of justice.

In the meantime, the sisters’ defence team is arguing for their conditional release, as are advocates like Congress of Aboriginal Peoples vice-chief Kim Beaudin, who says they aren’t a risk to the public. 

Beaudin will house Nerissa if she’s released. He said he’s optimistic that will be the outcome of Monday’s hearing.

“They’ll finally be able to start a new journey, a journey that should have been started over 30 years ago. This thing has been going on far too long,” he said.

two women embrace, one in handcuffs
Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance hug outside of the Yorkton courthouse in late 2022 after nearly two decades of being apart. Nerissa was accompanied by an RCMP officer. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

James Lockyer, the sisters’ lead defence counsel and co-founder of Innocence Canada, argued during a court hearing in January that the sisters’ confessions in the early ’90s was forced and unreliable, and that the sisters should be released pending their case review.

He said the case in the ’90s was a battle of credibility between the two Indigenous girls and the Kamsack Police Department, and “Odelia and Nerissa were bound to lose that contest.”

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Lockyer said, “I know Odelia and Nerissa and all of those helping them are a mixture of nervous, apprehensive and hopeful about Monday.”

If the sisters are released, they will have to abide by conditions ordered by Justice Layh.

WATCH | Bail hearing for Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance begins

After 30 years bail hearing begins for Quewezance sisters who say they were wrongfully convicted

Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance hope to make bail pending ministerial decision

Crown prosecutor Kelly Kaip opposed the release of the sisters. 

During the hearing in January, Kaip argued there isn’t enough proof the sisters are innocent in Dolff’s death, and that despite their improvements while incarcerated — including leadership roles in programs and volunteering — their criminal histories and parole violations suggest they shouldn’t be released.

Kaip retold the story of Dolff’s death in court. Dolff was beaten, stabbed and had a telephone cord wrapped around his neck.

The sisters’ cousin, who was a minor at the time of the murder, admitted in court to stabbing Dolff and was convicted alongside them in Dolff’s death. He served four years for second-degree murder. 

Beaudin said he’s “not at all” concerned about Nerissa breaking parole conditions and that he has housed others who have come out of the justice system in the past.

“We’re going to focus on her strengths and prepare her for the real world because … when you’ve been tied up for the system that long — over 30 years — you become institutionalized,” Beaudin said.

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