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Sask. judge grants bail for Quewezance sisters who say they were wrongfully imprisoned nearly 30 years ago

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A pair of Saskatchewan sisters have been granted bail after spending almost 30 years in prison for what they describe as a wrongful conviction.

Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 stabbing death of Kamsack farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff.

Following the court proceedings, Odelia spoke to reporters briefly, making a statement and turning down questions from reporters.

“Right now, I’m just overwhelmed and I just want to be with my family … I’m in shock,” she said.

“I always knew in my heart, we’d be free.”

Crown Prosecutor Kelly Kaip said it has been a difficult ordeal for the Dolff family.

“The Crown in the coming days will be carefully reviewing the decision of the judge and will be determining the next steps,” she said.

Justice Donald Layh granted the sisters bail in a hearing on Monday at the Yorkton Court of King’s Bench.

“I am satisfied that the Quewezance sisters have satisfied in a balance of probability, that their application to the ministry is not frivolous, that they will return to court as required and neither the public’s safety and the confidence of the administration of justice is offended by their release,” Layh said in the ruling.

Justice Layh outlined that both Odelia and Nerissa both have been granted day parole in the past and have had it revoked repeatedly due to drug violations and failing to report to their parole officers.

Layh went as far to say the women may have been out 20 years earlier if the parole violations weren’t seen.

However, the court repeatedly referenced the sisters’ upbringing as well as the circumstances of their arrest as determining factors for the decision.

“For example, they were young Indigenous women who had engaged in substantial drug and alcohol consumption within hours of their statements. They were interrogated by exclusively male officers, their statements were neither audio nor video recorded,” Justice Layh explained.

“Clearly the liberty of the Quewezance sisters is at stake, Gladue factors apply. The Quewezance sisters fall squarely within the frequent judicial statements that require the court to consider their experiences as Indigenous women.”

Gladue principles are a way for a judge to consider the unique circumstances and experiences of Indigenous peoples.

Both Odelia and Nerissa will be subject to release conditions including no contact with the victim’s family, relapse prevention programming as well as curfews.

"I hope that something is different about they way you have abided by parole terms. That you accept the confidence of the court and that this matter proceed and that you abide by the terms. This has become crucial it seems to me," Justice Layh told the sisters.

"Any disregard to these terms would not be viewed favourably by the court. So, I wish you the best in your new journey.”

The bail will take effect immediately following the completion of the court's paperwork.

The next steps lay in the hands of the Justice Minister, who will have three options to further the case, according to the sisters’ lawyer, James Lockyer.

Lockyer said they can dismiss the application, refer it to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal or direct a new trial with possible downgraded charges for the pair.

The sisters’ lawyer, James Lockyer, spoke to reporters following the proceedings.

“This is a slow process. This is going to take some considerable time,” he said, with the next decision possibly taking up to a year.

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