July 23rd, 2024

Quebec cold case: Prison inmate charged with 1st-degree murder in girl’s 1994 killing

By Jacob Serebrin and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press on December 12, 2023.

Quebec provincial police say they've made an arrest in the killing of a young girl in a Montreal suburb nearly three decades ago. Investigators with province's cold case unit say a 61-year-old man detained at the La Macaza medium security prison has been arrested in the 1994 killing of Marie-Chantale Desjardins, shown in this police handout photo, and will face a first-degree murder charge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Surete du Quebec

MONTREAL – A 61-year-old Quebec prison inmate with 89 criminal convictions has been charged in the killing of a young girl in a Montreal suburb nearly three decades ago.

Réal Courtemanche, detained at La Macaza Institution, in Quebec’s Laurentians region, appeared in court Tuesday to face a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of Marie-Chantale Desjardins, who was 10 years old when she disappeared on July 16, 1994, after she left a friend’s house at the end of the day in Ste-Thérèse, Que., northwest of Montreal. Her body was found four days later in the neighbouring community of Rosemère in the woods behind a shopping centre.

“Thanks to the relentless work of (provincial police) we were able to charge Mr. Courtemanche in connection with this event,” prosecutor Steve Baribeau told reporters at the courthouse in St-Jérôme, Que., northwest of Montreal.

Courtemanche was identified as the alleged killer thanks to “innovative methods in forensic biology” by the province’s crime lab, provincial police said Tuesday in a news release without giving details.

Prosecutors charged Courtemanche by direct indictment, which will allow them to proceed to trial without a preliminary inquiry. He said prosecutors will support Desjardins’ family throughout the trial.

“It’s a difficult step for them today, because it brings this all back, this tragedy, the killing of a 10-year-old girl,” Baribeau said. “It brings it back into their life, it’s not finished with the appearance today, this is simply the first step.”

The cold case file says Marie-Chantale was a Grade 3 student in Blainville, Que., when she was killed. A few weeks before her disappearance, she moved to Ste-Thérèse with her mother and her half-brother to live with her mother’s spouse.

On the last day she was seen alive, she left home on her bike at around 9:30 a.m. for a friend’s house. But when she arrived her friend was preparing to leave, so Marie-Chantale biked off. Witnesses told police she was seen at a snack bar on Turgeon Street in Ste-Thérèse during the day and also with a friend between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. in that community.

Courtemanche, who is scheduled to return to court Jan. 17, has been convicted of 89 criminal offences since 1981 and was declared a dangerous offender in 2015 and given an indeterminate sentence – which has no set end date – after his conviction for kidnapping a woman and assaulting her with a knife.

“Neither age, the passage of time, the accumulation of sanctions and prison terms, nor supervisory or surveillance measures have led the accused to change his criminal behaviour, which is often violent and impulsive toward others,” Quebec court judge Jacques Trudel wrote in his decision declaring Courtemanche a dangerous offender. The judge said that in addition to the kidnapping, Courtemanche had committed 11 other offences that involved violence or the threat of violence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2023.

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