Murder charge dropped after man pleads guilty to interfering with northern Alberta woman's body

“Indeed, how she died has never been determined,” said Court of King’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil

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Murder charges against a northern Alberta man have been withdrawn after he admitted to mistreating the body of a woman whose remains were found in a burned-out mobile home.

Roderick Ellery-Sorensen pleaded guilty Wednesday to interfering with the remains of Marge Bouchard, who died under unclear circumstances in 2021.

Court of King’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence and sentenced Ellery-Sorensen to a single day in jail, acknowledging the months the accused spent in pretrial custody.

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Belzil called the case an “incredibly tragic situation,” but agreed the Crown could not prove Ellery-Sorensen started the fire or caused Bouchard’s death.

“Indeed, how she died has never been determined,” he said.

The fire broke out Sept. 22, 2021, in Bouchard’s mobile home on Central Avenue in Falher, a town of around 1,000 people in the Peace Country.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Bouchard and Ellery-Sorensen were smoking methamphetamine using a gas-powered torch. At some point, Bouchard grew agitated and attacked Ellery-Sorensen with a kitchen knife.

Unbeknownst to either of them, the torch tipped over during the scuffle and started a fire.

Ellery-Sorensen fended off the attack and retreated to the bathroom to wash his injured hands and forearms. When he returned to the main room, Bouchard was dead.

Ellery-Sorensen admitted to moving Bouchard’s body “a short distance” to “cover up the fact that methamphetamines were being consumed prior to the altercation,” the agreed facts state.

“At this point, the fire began to rapidly consume the interior of the residence, and Roderick Ellery-Sorensen fled.”

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The fire burned the mobile home to the ground and destroyed a neighbouring unit. Bouchard’s body was later found in the wreckage. Investigators were unable to determine her cause of death.

Police charged Ellery-Sorensen, then 26, with second-degree murder and arson a few days later. His trial began earlier this year in Peace River but adjourned partway through.

‘The result is appropriate’: defence lawyer

Defence lawyer Shamsher Kothari said his client is glad the murder and arson charges have been withdrawn.

“He’s relieved that the matter has concluded in the fashion it did,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to have a preliminary inquiry so we could test the evidence before having to have a full-blown trial. But at the end of the day the result is appropriate.”

Ellery-Sorensen was held in pretrial custody but was eventually released on bail. He spent around a year and a half on house arrest, Kothari told court.

Belzil credited Ellery-Sorensen for nine months in remand, which at the standard enhanced rate for pretrial custody worked out to one year of time served. The final day of his sentence was served by Wednesday’s court appearance, allowing Ellery-Sorensen to walk out of court a free man.

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He previously served several short jail stints for crimes including break and enter, possession of stolen property, uttering threats, theft and failure to comply with court conditions.

Belzil declined to endorse a number of restitution orders totalling in the tens of thousands of dollars, saying nothing Ellery-Sorensen admitted establishes a “causal” link between his actions and the fire.

Cheyenne Bouchard, Marge Bouchard’s daughter, said she is devastated by her mother’s death and blames herself for letting Ellery-Sorensen into the home. 

In a victim impact statement read by Crown prosecutor David Sherwin, she described feeling “severely depressed” and “very exhausted with life” after her mother’s death. She is now homeless and living in B.C. 

“It’s my choices that led to this tragedy,” she said.

Bouchard was included on a list of missing and murdered Indigenous women compiled by the Peace River Aboriginal Interagency Committee in 2022.

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