I consider myself a bit of a crime fanatic.
Between working weekends at the Edmonton Journal as a crime reporter, reading tons of true crime, minoring in criminology, and keeping up with national and international news about crime, there’s really not much that stuns me anymore — I’ve gotten used to seeing and reading about horrible things. The reality of the world we live in doesn’t often bother me, because I know positive societal change can come from the worst acts of humanity. Without being faced with horror, we wouldn’t appreciate the goodness life has to offer.
I also like to think we can trust the criminal justice system, and that a criminal trial will lead to a fair verdict based on evidence. I like to think that the system protects victims, demonstrates sensitivity for their memory and takes the utmost care in the handling of their remains. But this didn’t happen recently, and it’s kept me awake at night.
46-year-old long-haul trucker Brad Barton recently went on trial in Edmonton for the first-degree murder of Cindy Gladue, who died in a bathtub in the Yellowhead Inn in June 2011. She bled to death from an 11-centimetre wound in her vagina.
The details of the trial were grisly, and the verdict depended on whether Barton’s fingers caused the wound, (a result of rough sex, he claimed) or, as the prosecution argued, whether it was a sharp object that sliced through her body.
Despite being shown photographs of the injury, Acting Chief Medical Examiner Graeme Dowling insisted on bringing Gladue’s preserved vagina into the courtroom and demonstrating the laceration on a projector to the jury.
Surprisingly, it was Crown prosecutor Carole Godfrey who advocated the inclusion of the human remains, not the two-man defence team.
Barton was ultimately acquitted of first-degree murder and manslaughter on March 18. He left the courthouse a free man. The public’s reaction to the verdict has since been fierce, with some community members calling for rallies for justice in Gladue’s memory.
But the most damning aspect of this trial is the fact human remains were even admitted into the courtroom. This woman spent her last moments of life alone in a bathroom, robbed of any dignity. It’s shocking and unacceptable that such an intimate physical piece of a woman would be allowed into a courtroom to be examined. This was an unprecedented move that reflects poorly on the justice system and a desire to convict someone without any sort of consideration for the victim’s dignity.
If a woman’s mutilated vagina is allowed into a courtroom, it opens the door to more potential grotesque pieces of evidence. Would it be considered acceptable to bring in a man’s penis, a pregnant woman’s womb or even an infant killed from a head injury? Where do we draw the line on what’s acceptable? Each trial is unique, but a victim must always be respected both in life and death, and admitting Gladue’s genitals into court proceedings sets a dangerous precedent for how victims could be treated in the criminal justice system years after death.
Regardless of the verdict, Cindy Gladue and her family deserved more from our criminal justice system, and we should all be horrified her remains were carted into a courtroom and projected for everyone to see.
There’s nothing good that came from this trial, and that’s a terrible thing to accept — a woman is dead, a family is torn apart, a potentially dangerous man now walks free and those of us following along are dumbfounded as to how this all happened. This trial has shaken the public’s trust in the criminal justice system, leaving many of us wondering what went wrong. I never knew Cindy Gladue, but I hope she will be remembered as a real woman, not simply a piece of anatomy in a courtroom.