Two sisters who have spent nearly 30 years in prison for what they say are wrongful murder convictions hugged and smudged before walking into a courthouse for a bail hearing Tuesday.
Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder in the death of 70-year-old farmer Anthony Joseph Dolff, near Kamsack, Sask.
Defence lawyers are asking for the sisters to get a conditional release while their case is undergoing a federal conviction review. The federal Justice Department started the review last year, saying there may be a reasonable basis to conclude there was a miscarriage of justice.
“I am a strong believer in my prayers and my culture,” Odelia Quewezance said before the hearing.
“I’m nervous, but I feel strong. I have nothing to hide.”
The sisters from the Keeseekoose First Nation have always maintained their innocence and another person, who was a youth at the time, confessed to the killing.
A judge recently overturned a ban that allows for media to publish what happens during the two-day bail hearing in Yorkton, Sask.
Odelia Quewezance was granted a brief release from prison to travel to Ottawa last year to ask for justice. She said at the time she sat in prison all those years wondering "why?"
“Thirty years is a long time," she told reporters. "That’s cruel and unusual punishment."
Odelia Quewezance was 20 years old and her sister was 18 when the pair was arrested for the 1993 stabbing death of the farmer.
The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear their appeal three years later.
Their lawyer, James Lockyer, has said the sisters were present when Dolff was killed, but the youth who confessed to the killing has testified the sisters were not involved.
“The two sisters, they need their lives back,” Lockyer said.
The elder sister received day parole last year with strict conditions. Her sister's parole was denied and she has remained behind bars in Fraser Valley Institution for Women in British Columbia.
“Odelia and Nerissa are the victims of a justice system plagued by racism and prejudice,” said Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Elmer St. Pierre in a news release Monday.
“The Saskatchewan government has spent 30 years repeatedly denying the sisters justice, so now they must be granted bail immediately.”
When the criminal conviction review process is over, a report and legal advice will be prepared for the federal justice minister. The minister can then order a new trial or appeal, or dismiss the application if he is not convinced there has been a miscarriage of justice.
The sisters have also credited David Milgaard with championing their case and getting it on the radar of Innocence Canada, an advocacy group founded by Lockyer.
Milgaard, who died last year, became an outspoken advocate for the wrongfully convicted after spending 23 years in prison for a 1969 rape and murder he didn't commit.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2023.