A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness. John Keats
Witnesses, people who have relevant information about a crime, play a key role in all criminal cases. Both the lawyers appointed by the government and the ones for the accused can call witnesses - subpoena them - to come to court to tell this information to the judge, and sometimes to a jury.
Apparently the jury needed to understand the role of witnesses how to assess them, understand them? The Judge addressed this with the jury.
“Do not jump to conclusions in that regard, however, because witnesses testify in different ways. Looks can be deceiving, giving evidence in a trial is not a common experience for many witnesses. People react and appear differently. Witnesses come from different backgrounds, they have different abilities, values and life experiences. There are simply too many variables, ladies and gentlemen, to make the manner in which the witness testifies the only or even the most important factor in your decision. Now these are only some of the factors that you might keep in mind when you go to your jury room to make your decision. These factors might help you decide how much or how little you will believe of and rely upon a witness’s evidence and you, amongst yourselves, may consider other factors as well.”
There were to be three witnesses called to the stand to establish the time of Candace’s disappearance: David Wiebe, who had seen her at the school; Blaine Wilson Webster, who had seen her at the store; and Adis Abdi who had seen her walking a block from home.
While knowing the time of death is not crucial in every homicide case, it was significant in ours. They wanted to know the exact time Candace disappeared.
There was another witness who did not take the stand. She approached me after church one Sunday before the trial began to tell me that she had been there that fateful day in November. “I was part of the snowball fight in front of the school,” she said. “I saw David give her a face wash with snow, saw them talking, and then saw her start walking home. “She was happy, Mrs. Derksen,” she paused. “She was just glowing.”
I had suspected as much. People are most vulnerable to strangers or anything happening around them when they are extremely sad or happy. Happiness makes them feel invincible.
David took the stand. The Clerk had him spell out his name. David John Wiebe. He carried himself with such confidence, hardly recognizable as the young teen I had first seen so many years ago. Now he was a successful young man, in pharmaceuticals, married with two young sons.
Assistant Crown, Himmelman began the questions. “Mr. Wiebe, you were born December 11th 1968, I understand?”
“So as of November 30th, 1984, you would have been 15 years of age?”
“Where were you going to school?”
“Which is Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute?”
“And that is located on Talbot Avenue?”
“And as of 1984, you were in grade 11, I understand.”
“And were you familiar with Candace Derksen?”
“How did you get to know her?
“Through Camp Arnes. We both went to camp, and she worked the horses and I worked in leadership training programs, and we just got to know each other through camp. And then she ended up going to MBCI in the fall, and we just met each other there a few times.”
“And what was your relationship with her.”
“We were just friends. She was a fun, vibrant kid and it was fun being around her.”
The Crown continued. “On November 30th itself, do you recall the end of the school day?”
“Can you tell us what you were doing?”
“There was fresh snow outside, and there was a bunch of us having a snowball fight outside, and we’d come in and out. It was getting close to the end of the school, and I saw Candace on the phone in the cafeteria area, and so, oh okay, I thought. I’m going to get some fresh snow and I throw it in her face. And so, I ran outside and did that. She kind of laughed and I laughed and ran off. And then a while later, I saw that she was outside, so I grabbed some more snow, and threw it in her face, and she - we were laughing and just, you now having a fun time. And then I asked, ‘Are you going home?’ And she said. ‘Yeah.’ And I said. ‘Oh if I didn’t have my Driver’s Ed. right now I’d walk you home.’ And she said, ‘That’s okay, David.’ And that was it. And then I went back to my snowball fight and we just kept on throwing snow at each other with the other kids.”
I too remembered that fateful day. Up against a writing deadline, I was cleaning the house for the weekend. It was one of those ordinary days that should have slipped obliviously into November's row of days like all the other days of that month, like all the other days of all the other months of that year.
The Crown continued to question David. “After driver’s education did you come back to the school?”
“Yes. There was choir practice, I believe, that evening.”
“And what next about that meeting do you recall?”
“Candace’s mom coming down, walking towards me and she was saying to me, ‘Have you seen Candace?’ And I said, I saw her at the end of the school day. I said I gave her a snow face wash. She said. ‘Oh yeah.’ And then I kind of said. ‘Well – actually I gave her two.’ And we just kind of laughed a bit, and then she said, ‘she didn’t come home.’ And I just said. ‘Oh I’m sure she’ll come home. I’m sure she just at a friends; or something.’ I didn’t realize the severity of it then.”
Later that evening when I had exhausted all my leads and Cliff had retraced her steps at least twice, I knew that I needed to find David. I needed to see him. Just seeing him would give me a clue as to what this was all about. I would know the state of her mind, once I met him.
A week prior when the whole school had been encouraged to attend the evening Terry Winter Crusade at the Winnipeg Convention Center, Candace had come home from the crusade walking on air.
Just by the way Candace lingered over his name and described every detail of every encounter that she had with him, I gathered that she had a crush on him. An innocent attraction. Younger girls often idolize the older fellows. Possibly David didn't even know he was slightly bewitched by a younger girl's charm or in some innocent way trapped into noticing her.
I drove slowly to the school, searching each side of the street. I remembered Candace telling me about the time David sat with her during a volleyball game after school. He had caught her arm when she was going to volley the ball over the net during a volleyball game, making her so nervous that she missed the next two serves. When I arrived, the school was buzzing with evening activities.
I entered the school. Harry Wall, the principal, looked a little tired as he supervised the students. I asked him if he knew where David was. He pointed to a boy fumbling with his lock at the lockers.
His eyes twinkled, his smile was warm… he was a young girl’s heart throb!
I knew the moment I saw him – that he had bewitched my daughter without even knowing it. He was all-encompassing, all absorbing, worthy of her young obsession. It meant only one thing.
Candace, in love with David, would never have gone with anyone else.
Someone had forcibly taken her….
Because he was the last one to interact with Candace, he was questioned mercilessly especially during the time she was missing. The fact that he had taken his Driver Ed training right after and had an iron-clad alibi for the rest of the day helped a great deal to assure everyone of his innocence.
I was shocked, in 2000, when the Cold Case was reopened, that David was still on the list of suspects – never a prime suspect, but on the list.
The police asked if I could contact David, give him the good news that they were now building a case and asking him if he would mind a visit from them.
I called to make an appointment to see him. We met – February 14, 2007 on Valentine’s Day at the Canad Inn restaurant, Aaltos for coffee. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so we had a lot to catch up on. I was so pleased to hear that his family, wife and two children, were doing well. It seemed as if he had survived it all.
He was eager to meet with Bradbury and Lutz –willing to do whatever it took to move the case along. Little did I know that he would then be asked to take a polygraph test – at this late stage. Even though the officers assured him that he wasn’t the prime suspect and apologized profusely for the past behaviors of other investigators, they still wanted him to take the test so as to eliminate him once and for all from all suspicion. He was also asked to give a DNA sample at this time.
I also didn’t know at the time how difficult those tests are – especially to someone conscientious and honest.
Cliff had taken one – soon after Candace’s body had been found - and come home white and shaken. Hearing the two of them share the experience of taking a polygraph a few days after gave me a new appreciation of how cruel it is to be probed down to the last moral fiber of one’s being.
I remember being on the Peter Warren show, CJOB, shortly after Have you seen Candace? was published. We were talking about my new book when he received a call from a listener.
“I know who is to blame for Candace’s death,” the woman said.
“Who?” I thought it might be a confession – a lead.
“The mother,” she said.
I was stunned. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. Others had often indirectly or sometimes even quite directly, said that I should have picked up Candace.
But this woman had a different insight. “The mother knew that Candace was being stalked, and even when Candace asked for a ride home, the mother didn’t go pick up Candace?”
I couldn’t help but interject at that point. “But I am the mother – and I can assure you that I didn’t know Candace was in any danger. If I had known I would have picked her up.”
There was a long pause. “The mother is to blame,” the woman said emphatically and hung up.
As far as I understand there are three classifications of people in an investigation. There are “persons of interest.” This is someone who police want to talk to for information about a case.
A suspect is someone who is under suspicion – anyone who had access – who could have done it and was in some proximity of the case. They are questioned, perhaps asked to take polygraph, on a list and monitored until the case is solved.
A prime suspect is a person believed most likely to have committed the crime. As far as I know, over the years I always heard that their prime suspect was someone who had lived close to MBCI – someone who was really “sick” – little hints like that – who in hindsight I now know was Mark Edward Grant.
If memory serves correctly there was a teacher at MBCI who was questioned, a distant cousin, two neighbors, two close friends, a man living in our community who when he saw the police coming up the walk ran for his life and was chased by the police. He wasn’t guilty at least not for Candace’s murder but just wanted to avoid the police. At one point around the 20th anniversary of her death, a young soldier friend coming home from serving in Afghanistan came to pay his respects – and to visit Candace’s grave. Somehow the police found out about his visit – and we know he was questioned by the police. There are probably many others who experienced the probing questions of suspicion. Even though it is part of a routine investigations, it is another kind of victimization.
On the stand, the story came out question by question, answer by answer.
When Simmonds began the cross-examination, it wasn’t so much about David’s relationship with Candace or seeing her that last day, but about the police investigation.
What was his experience with the police? Simmonds asked in different ways.
David answered. “This one officer kept saying how Candace was going to be home by midnight. He said, ‘You know why? You're going to get in my car right now and take me to her,’” Wiebe told jurors.
Simmonds continued with that line of questioning highlighting David’s frustrating experience at being interviewed when Candace disappeared and then weeks later being questioned again after her body was found.
What was a routine procedure in police work, for the Homicide Unit to revisit all the witnesses interviewed previously by the Missing Person Unit, had only emphasized and validated their suspicion of him. The Defence was capitalizing on it.
Finally Assistant Crown Himmelman jumped to his feet, and objected to the relevance of the questions.
Simmonds replied that he was only inquiring about the police investigation.
At one point Simmonds suggested that even members of the family were suspects. By portraying the intensity of the police questions and investigation, it would eventually give the jury the impression that David was actually a serious person of interest and therefore a suspect, that Cliff was also a suspect – a ploy meant to divert the attention away from Grant.
It all became so intense the Judge intervened and excused the jury to talk it through. The cross-examination was curtailed.
I was so relieved when David’s testimony was over and he could join us in the gallery to watch the rest of the trial.
The witnesses taking the stand weren’t the only witnesses. The gallery was full of witnesses. To debrief with them, I encouraged them to come and visit us in our home at the end of the court day – from five to six every weekday afternoon if we needed to debrief.
We put out the tea, put up our feet, and debriefed until we felt all warm again inside. We would create space for conversation – that wonderful hum of voices
It was amazing how just the right people came at the right time to our little “happy hour” – which was a complete misnomer. But did exactly what it was intended to do.
Some showed their support by leaving gifts at our door - an angel figurine in the mail, packages of Land O’Lakes Cocoa Classics and a very special chili chocolate bar. One Sunday night a wicker basket filled with goodies, a bouquet of yellow roses with a few symbolic white roses and a note of encouragement with insights into the case. The discussion outside the courtroom became as interesting as the one inside.
Here is another blog – random thoughts.
To be as friends: January, 2011
At a conference for victims of serious crime, there were many themes that came out of our two days together but the most prevalent was the fact that everyone who had experienced a murder of a loved one felt lonely. They felt estranged from the rest of society, sidelined, no longer acceptable. Even decades later, they still felt a profound loneliness.
It was ironic that, at the time they were being thrust into the public eye, they felt the loneliest. It was considered very much part of the trauma of the aftermath of murder, a terrible poverty of the soul.
Learning this, my biggest fear was to be abandoned during the trial - a time when I knew I would need to debrief. I knew everyone impacted by Candace's murder would need to debrief. I didn’t want anyone to feel abandoned. Candace was all about friends.
What is a good friend? Friends are accepting. Friends can be open with each other because they know they aren't going to be judged. Friends share sorrows and losses. This sharing may not reduce the impact of loss but it will help to unburden the loss. This is no small gift - the gift of friendship.
Friendship is mostly about hope. During our times of trouble, only a friend can come forward and gives us encouragement and hope. At times in life when we feel totally devastated and hopeless, and when our self-esteem reaches an all-time low, a friend helps us regain confidence in ourselves. They believe in us. They want the best for us.
In trying to think of what we will need during the trial I can only think of friends.
There is something diminishing about the courtroom – where the judge won’t even acknowledge us in the room. There is something minimizing about the formality of the procedures, the lack of emotion, lack of warmth and intimacy in this place where the mind rules.
So I my invited friends, old friends and new ones – and even the people who suddenly wanted to be friends – to feel that this is the time they could come to our house. I want my friends to be surrounded by friends. The door was always open.
I believe a trial was a time to come and be as friends….
In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer
To protect the vulnerable in this story, I am changing their names.
Thank you for reading this first draft. I do apologize for the formatting.
Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any comments - corrections, insights or alerts.