Nearly a year after Winnipeg police charged an alleged serial killer with the murder of four indigenous women, the victims’ families are bracing to hear details about their deaths in a two-week pretrial hearing that began Monday, November 6.“It’s going to be a tough week for us. I don’t think there is much you can do to prepare for something like that, so me and my family are just talking amongst ourselves and spending time together and we will continue to do that,” said Jorden Myran, sister of Marcedes Myran who is believed to have been slain in May 2022.Jeremy Skibicki, 35, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Marcedes, 26, Morgan Harris, 39, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a fourth victim known as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman), whose true identity remains unknown.The charges against Skibicki have not been tested in court and he made a not guilty plea, on all counts, on the first day of the pretrial hearing.Cambria Harris, Morgan Harris’ daughter, also acknowledged the pretrial in a statement posted to social media Friday.“A few days ago, I finally found out just what happened to my mother Morgan and how she passed and so I’m just heartbroken lately knowing what she had to go through in the end. It’s horrible. This was so that it doesn’t come as a shock in court, and I’m glad I got the answers, but it has left me traumatized,” she wrote, adding the thought of being in the same room as Skibicki makes her stomach turn.Around three dozen family members and supporters braved the November rain and gathered outside the Manitoba Law Courts building the night of September 5 to participate in a candlelight vigil.Myran, who organized the event in honour of her sister, led the crowd in a series of traditional indigenous songs, accompanied by several other drummers and singers.The Harris and Myran families have led ongoing calls for the various levels of government to support a search of Prairie Green Landfill near Winnipeg, where the remains of both women are believed to be buried.Last month, Manitoba’s newly elected Premier Wab Kinew promised the provincial and federal governments will move ahead with such efforts even though there is little reason to believe they will be successful given the length of time the remains have been buried under tonnes of highly corrosive and compacted debris.A review of court documents show Skibicki has filed dozens of motions and documents since being charged. All factual details revealed during the pretrial will fall under a publication ban, meaning they cannot be reported.The pretrial process is a standard feature in criminal trials and can include the use of a voir dire — a legal term describing a kind of 'trial within a trial' — which can help a judge determine what evidence will be admissible in court and identify any issues before proceeding.Pretrial hearings are slated to continue until November 21, Myran said.“Me and my family will be in court every single day,” she said. “We want these women to get justice.”But will Skibicki get justice as well, based on the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty, in accordance with Section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?Family members and supporters, many wearing shirts displaying images of Contois, Harris and Myran, filled the large courtroom the next morning. Some gasped as Skibicki entered his pleas.Indigenous ceremonies were recognized by the court before the start of the hearing. The courtroom was smudged and blessed with prayer and song.Four large cloths — black, red, yellow and white — were hung on the walls of the courtroom to represent the four directions. A buffalo headdress was also placed on a table with an eagle feather fan.A red ribbon dress was laid out on a chair to represent Buffalo Woman.Aimee Fortier, a spokesperson for Manitoba Courts, said in an email the courts will always ensure that its neutral regarding religion and spirituality, but there are attempts being made to address issues of reconciliation and trust with indigenous communities.“The accommodations and gestures identified by the Crown, and agreed to by all counsel, represent an approach by which neutrality can be preserved and, at the same time, Indigenous knowledge, practice and tradition can be incorporated,” Fortier said.True neutrality would never allow the display of indigenous only religious symbolism in a secular courtroom.Police have said they believe the four women were killed over two months in the spring of 2022, although only the body of Contois has been found.Police believe the remains of Harris and Myran are in the Prairie Green Landfill north of Winnipeg. Their families have spent nearly a year calling for a search of the landfill after police and the provincial government declined to search the area, citing safety and other concerns.Skibicki’s lawyers argued on November 6 he should have a judge-alone trial, presumably because the intense media scrutiny and public interest since he was charged with the murders would jeopardize his right to a fair and impartial trial.Under the Criminal Code, a jury trial is automatic in cases of first-degree murder and can only be re-elected to a judge alone with the consent of the Crown. Skibicki’s lawyers argued the rule is arbitrary and unconstitutional, and the Crown’s decision not to consent to a judge-alone trial was “tactical” and not guided by fairness before the law.“An accused should have an unfettered right to elect the mode of trial that they want,” Leonard Tailleur, Skibicki’s lead lawyer, told reporters outside court.Chris Gamby, director of communications with the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, said a defence lawyer may push for a trial by judge alone if the case has had a high profile, an assertion that applies to the Skibicki case."Is the jury pool tainted? Have they heard too much about this already such that they don't feel like they can get a fair hearing? Has he been convicted in the court of public opinion? That's, I think, probably a pretty good reason why somebody might not want to have one," he opined.The Crown is contesting the defence’s motion to have a judge-alone trial.There is “very high public interest to have a trial by judge and jury” in this case, said Charles Murray, a lawyer with Manitoba Justice’s constitutional law branch.It is highly contestable whether “very high public interest” should take precedence over the right to a fair trial in a murder case lacking any human remains.Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal reserved his decision for a later date. The rest of the two-week hearing is under a publication ban.All these facts and more cast doubt on whether Skibicki will get the fair hearing all people are entitled to.In a July 6 statement, former Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson expressed concern that a search for the women’s remains could negatively affect the court case.“We need to respect the judicial process that this continues to go through. We don’t want to jeopardize that,” she told reporters without elaboration.Though she has never detailed these legal threats, Stefanson was clearly referencing Skibicki’s trial for the murder of these women scheduled to begin in April 2024.That Skibicki could benefit from all the turmoil surrounding the search for the remains of these women is both compelling and troubling.In the interest of objectivity and transparency, the feasibility study calling for a landfill search should have been headed by impartial researchers.Banning the police and other experienced fact-finding institutions from taking the lead in the feasibility study was highly problematic. The universal principles of natural justice and their application in Canada say victims or their families and close allies must never be allowed to control any criminal investigation.Skibicki’s lawyers also must be hoping the fruitless hunt for these two women is still in progress during the trial because this might influence the mindset of both the judge and jurors.Perhaps the most important threat to Skibicki’s successful prosecution is recognition that justice delayed is justice denied. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada set hard limits of 30 months from the date charges are laid for these kind of cases to their conclusion.Skibicki was charged in December 2022. His trial is slated to start next April, 16 months after his charges were laid. It’s unclear how long that trial could take or whether pre-trial motions could force a delay. The feasibility study estimates a search, if it is undertaken, could take 12 to 36 months.If the Crown were to ask for a stay of proceedings pending the completion of the search, a real possibility given how hard it is to get a murder conviction in the absence of a dead body, Stibicki’s could end up walking free.Whether remains are found or not, his lawyer could also claim Skibicki’s right to a fair trial had been abrogated by what is nothing short of a vigilante hunt by those closely connected or sympathetic to his alleged victims.As expected, the Winnipeg Police Service has been very tight-lipped about their evidence against Skibicki though it may be surmised they have eyewitness and/or forensic evidence implicating him in the murders.Whether such evidence alone would be sufficient to convict him of the heinous crime of murder beyond a reasonable doubt is questionable given that murders without bodies are difficult to prosecute, especially in Manitoba.In 2019, Skibicki’s estranged second wife successfully filed for a protection order against him, alleging she suffered a litany of abuse at his hands and he threatened to kill her.It is also known Skibicki preyed on vulnerable indigenous women by frequenting soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Winnipeg’s inner city, meeting women whom he would take home to his apartment, according to numerous sources.CBC spoke with a friend of Skibicki’s, who spent time with him at the McKay Avenue apartment Skibicki moved into in October 2021 and where he lived until his arrest on May 18, 2022.During the time Skibicki lived at the apartment, the man saw about half a dozen women he believes were indigenous come and go, though Skibicki told him he’d had at least 30 women stay with him for varying periods of time. He also said he often saw drug paraphernalia in Skibicki’s apartment after the women left.Skibicki has just claimed he is innocent of all charges and none of these observations remotely prove that Skibicki murdered four hapless women.Like any citizen, he deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Conversely, fruitlessly searching for the remains of the two women may result in a guilty man being found innocent.Hymie Rubenstein is editor of The REAL Indigenous Report and a retired professor of anthropology, University of Manitoba.