When Michael Bridges killed Erin Chorney in 2002, it devastated a Brandon family and left them yearning for answers, a Brandon courtroom heard on Tuesday.
Cynthia Chorney, Erin Chorney’s aunt, was the first witness to testify for the Crown at Bridges’ faint hope clause hearing in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Erin was killed in April 2002, but her body wasn’t found until approximately two years later in someone else’s grave.
"We were absolutely devastated," Cynthia said under questioning from Crown attorney Mark Lafreniere.
"We didn’t know where she was. We looked absolutely everywhere, trying to figure out different avenues of how to find her."
"Initially it was just, ‘OK, she didn’t come home and we’re looking for her,’ but after a week, it was like ‘This is just not Erin.’"
Tuesday marked the sixth day of Bridges’ faint hope clause hearing, where he is asking a jury to be allowed to apply for parole before he has served 25 years in prison for first-degree murder.
Erin was born in 1983, her aunt told the court, and was a "light" in the family.
She loved swimming lessons, seeing her grandparents and became someone her younger cousins looked up to.
As she got older, Erin became close with her two siblings and her goal was to become a writer and a counsellor.
The last time Cynthia saw her niece was on a drive to Saskatoon for a family function, after she pressed assault charges against Bridges, she testified. Erin was killed during a discussion with Bridges about those same charges.
"We talked about … how she wanted to not let that be part of her life and move on and have a healthy life," Cynthia said.
Bridges was seated in the prisoners’ box and listened with his head down for most of Cynthia’s testimony on Tuesday afternoon.
The family put up missing person posters all across the province and sent out search parties, Cynthia said.
She said they never stopped looking.
When the news came out that Erin’s body had been found, it was difficult to take, Cynthia said, and left the family "devastated."
"Every one of us in our family have a picture of Erin sitting on our living room mantles somewhere. She’s the first person we look at when we wake up in the morning and she’s the last person we look at when we go to bed. And we wish she could be with us," Cynthia said through tears.
Lafreniere cross-examined Bridges on Tuesday morning, following his testimony to defence lawyer Carley Mahoney on Monday.
Bridges lied multiple times to authorities over the course of the investigation into Erin’s death, Lafreniere said, but Bridges responded he has changed in the close to two decades since the night of the murder.
The Crown drew attention to the fact Bridges took elaborate steps to hide this involvement in the murder, including disposing of Erin’s possessions, preparing her body by wrapping it in bedsheets and burying it in someone else’s grave.
Bridges then lied to police, saying he didn’t know what happened to Erin in the days and weeks after her death.
Lafreniere also questioned Bridges on why he took the charges to trial, which was his right, rather than pleading guilty in 2005.
"At that time, the only person I was considering was myself," Bridges said.
"I was a coward … I was selfish. All these things were at the very start of my sentence. I was only thinking of myself and I will not deny that," he said.
Lafreniere also brought up a number of incidents over the course of Bridges’ time in prison where he said Bridges acted inappropriately.
In one incident in 2018, Bridges was asked questions by a corrections facilitator about the murder.
In the facilitator’s report, it says Bridges became uncomfortable, defensive and came across like he didn’t want to complete the exercise.
Bridges apologized the next day and said his behaviour was "ridiculous," the report says, but Lafreniere said he couldn’t control himself in the moment.
"It was a stressful situation that you were unprepared for, just like you’re likely to encounter in real life," Lafreniere said to Bridges.
"I’m ashamed of what I did and it’s the hardest thing to talk about," Bridges replied.
"I don’t like opening up about that. I won’t open up to somebody who doesn’t give me an introduction — I’m standoffish, I’ll fully admit … I know I’m going to face tough challenges and it’s just that subject, it’s a hard thing to talk about."
Bridges said he has learned ways to handle tough situations and get a handle on his emotions.
Defence lawyers Ryan Amy and Carley Mahoney closed their case at the end of Bridges’ testimony.
The faint hope clause was repealed from the Criminal Code in December 2011, but Bridges can still apply under it as he was convicted before it was removed.
The clause, otherwise known as S.745.6 of the Canadian Criminal Code, was a statutory provision that allowed offenders sentenced to life imprisonment with a "parole eligibility period of greater than 15 years to apply for early parole once they have served 15 years."
The Crown attorneys are scheduled to continue calling witnesses to testify today.
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