The first attack took place on a footpath under a bridge early Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Police say the girl, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper, was beaten by two men and ended up in the frigid waters of a Winnipeg river. She crawled out, only to be assaulted again by the same men who, police say, left the scene and allegedly attacked a second woman near a city pool.
Ms. Harper does not remember the crime that nearly made her one of Canada's murdered or missing indigenous women. But five months later, a fuller picture is emerging of what allegedly occurred in the hours after an attack that stoked fear in the community and fuelled a national debate on how to address the crisis of violence against aboriginal women.
Justin Hudson, a 20-year-old native man, and a 17-year-old male who cannot be named because he is a minor, face charges of attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon in relation to the two attacks. Court documents cite a baseball bat as the weapon. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
The Globe and Mail has interviewed several people who interacted with the co-accused at the Hudson family home on Nov. 8, including Mr. Hudson's mother, April Hudson, and his older sister, who asked not to be named for safety reasons as the family has been threatened. The Globe also spoke with David Moodie, a 41-year-old man who had been living at the home and was charged last summer, along with Mr. Hudson, with possession of stolen property.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 8, according to the witnesses, the co-accused returned to the Hudson home in a state that raised concerns among those staying there about what the pair had done that night.
The co-accused apparently said they had been in a fight. The witnesses say Mr. Hudson at one point changed his clothing; one witness said the 17-year-old cleaned his shoes. They say there was a commotion that culminated in a verbal threat and a call to police. Officers allegedly came to the home looking for Mr. Hudson and ended up collecting clothing that Mr. Hudson's younger brother had found in the basement.
Ms. Harper's case caught the nation's attention in part for its similarities to the circumstances around the high-profile August killing of Winnipeg's 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. It also provoked a conversation about identifying victims of sexual assault, since police took the rare, controversial step of releasing Ms. Harper's name in the hope it would spur investigative leads (authorities say it did). Her public fight for her life also galvanized the movement calling for a federal inquiry into Canada's murdered and missing indigenous women. The Conservative government has dismissed such a probe as unnecessary, saying the tragedies often occur at the hands of native men and are crimes best handled by police.
The interviews also provide insight into the life of one of the co-accused. Mr. Hudson is the fourth of eight children, was raised for a time by his aunt and was in and out of foster care. He reconnected with his mother in his adult years and had been living at her home. Despite a Facebook posting that suggests he is part of a gang, his mother and Mr. Moodie said he was not, in fact, a member of the Manitoba Warriors.
The Hudson women said they, as well as Mr. Hudson's younger brother, have given statements to police. The Winnipeg Police Service declined to provide comment for this story because the matter is before the courts.
Ms. Hudson said she and her daughter were getting ready to leave her home for a nearby convenience store shortly before 3 a.m. on Nov. 8. As they were heading out, she said, the 17-year-old came in and said her son would be home soon. Ms. Hudson, who had questions about the teen's appearance, said she and her daughter then left for the store. There, the women said, they encountered a young woman, dishevelled and crying, who told them two men had assaulted her behind the Sherbrook Pool.
As Ms. Hudson and her daughter walked back to the house, the women said a family friend who had been hanging out that night yelled, "What the hell is going on here?" The women said the friend was alarmed at how Mr. Hudson, who had come home while they were at the store, looked when he arrived. Ms. Hudson said she went running inside to try to understand what was happening.
Mr. Hudson's sister said Mr. Hudson told them they had gotten into a fight. The commotion awoke Mr. Moodie, who said he came out and saw Mr. Hudson. The women said April Hudson was threatened and that Mr. Hudson's sister called 911. Neither Mr. Hudson nor the 17-year-old were present when police arrived, they said.
Mr. Moodie, who had gone back to sleep after the argument broke out in the middle of the night, said he was awakened again, this time to police officers in the home. "I just remember getting woken up to a cop saying, 'We're looking for Justin," he said in an interview in downtown Winnipeg. "[The police] were in and out and in and out." Mr. Moodie, who said he is a recovering drug user, said he served his sentence last fall for the possession of stolen property charge.
Mr. Hudson, who remains in custody, applied for legal aid after charges were laid in mid-November. He is under court order not to contact Ms. Harper or the other victim, whom The Globe is not naming. The 17-year-old's mother recently said her son is at a youth correctional centre.
Mr. Hudson's lawyer, Amanda Sansregret, told the court last month she had "started discussions" with Crown attorney Debbie Buors and that "we were already talking a resolution on this matter." She said the evidence in the case "fills a couple boxes" and includes DNA and multiple statements. The next court date is set for April 20 to discuss the sharing of the prosecution's evidence with the defence.
Ms. Sansregret would not comment beyond confirming she represents Mr. Hudson. Ms. Buors said in an e-mail she could not comment on "resolution talks with defence counsel."
Ms. Hudson and her daughter said they have not spoken with Mr. Hudson since Nov. 8. "It's frustrating and I'm kind of scared for him – he's had a lot of death threats," Ms. Hudson said. "But I also have three boys to raise. … I think I'll just stay away from that and be here for them."
Asked if she has any words for Ms. Harper, she was at a loss. "I don't wish this upon anyone," she said. "I just don't know what to say to somebody that's been victimized like that."