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Family of teen killed in 1976 'shocked' by recent murder charge laid against Alta. man

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The family of a teenage girl who was killed 47 years ago is speaking out for the first time since a charge was laid in the cold case.

Deborah Poitras never thought police would find her 16-year-old cousin Pauline Brazeau’s killer.

Then, last week, RCMP arrested and charged a Sundre, Alta., man in connection with the 1976 murder.

“I was totally shocked … To know that this person is still alive is even shocking,” Poitras said.

Ronald James Edwards, now 74, is accused of non-capital murder in Brazeau’s death after genetic genealogy linked him to the case.

The teen was last seen leaving an Italian restaurant on 17 Avenue S.W. around 3 a.m. on Jan. 9, 1976.

Hours later, her partially clothed body was found on a forestry road near Cochrane.

Ronald James Edwards is accused of killing 16-year-old Pauline Brazeau in early January 1976.

Edwards was set to make his first court appearance in Calgary on Tuesday, but duty counsel appeared on his behalf instead.

Poitras and other family members who attended were left disappointed.

“I wanted to just see his face and what he maybe looked like,” Poitras said.

“It’s heartbreaking to know that your relative died in such a tragic murder.”

Poitras says she was 14 years old when her cousin was killed.

They both moved to Calgary from Saskatchewan with family but had yet to meet one another.

Poitras remembers Brazeau’s father crying when he visited.

“I asked my mother like, ‘Why is he crying? Why is he upset?’ And my mother would just tell me… ‘He just lost his daughter recently and so, maybe when he sees you, maybe he thinks about her,’” she said.

'HUMAN TIME BOMB'

This isn’t Edwards’ first interaction with Alberta’s justice system.

He pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and sexual assault of an 18-year-old sex trade worker in September 1989 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

According to newspaper articles from the Calgary Herald at the time, Edwards attacked the young woman with a hunting knife, before she escaped through a window.

The Herald said the prosecutor described Edwards as a “human time bomb.”

Edwards’ lawyer at the time said he was remorseful and wouldn’t do it again if he stopped drinking.

“It’s really shocking and I think really, they should check him for even more assaults, maybe on all women, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous women,” Poitras said.

Meanwhile, Brazeau’s family and experts are left wondering if she was targeted because of her Métis status.

“If we look at the patterns of violence against Indigenous women and girls, then it’s undeniable that Indigenous identity has everything to do with the violence that Indigenous women are experiencing in Canada,” said Gabrielle Weasel Head, assistant professor of Indigenous studies at Mount Royal University.

Weseal Head adds that more resources need to be put into solving cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

She hopes Brazeau’s case will be a catalyst.

“It sends a message to the rest of Canadians that the lives of Indigenous women matter, and they always have mattered, and that they are being investigated in a way that is consistent with any other woman who goes missing in Canada,” she said.

Poitras plans to follow the court proceedings until the end, and is hopeful it will lead to justice for her cousin.

Deborah Poitras, pictured in Calgary. (Nicole Di Donato/CTV News)

“It doesn’t bring closure … It feels like it just opens up more trauma,” she said.

“What’s really important is that Pauline was a victim in this tragedy and I think that we just have to pray for her peace.”

Edwards is set to appear in court in Cochrane on Nov. 21.

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