A man has admitted in court that he killed four women in Winnipeg, but his lawyers are asking he be found not criminally responsible because of mental illness.

Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Monday the question of Jeremy Skibicki's mental capacity and intent will now be the focus of the trial.

The Crown agreed the trial, which was supposed to be with a jury, will instead be heard by a judge alone because of complexities with this type of defence.

"Concluding this matter before a jury does pose some challenges," said prosecutor Christian Vanderhooft.

The trial is to start Wednesday.

Skibicki, 37, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

His lawyers argued last week for the case to be heard in front of a judge alone. They said a jury trial would infringe on Skibicki's rights to a fair trial because of significant pretrial publicity. 

The lawyers also expressed concerns a jury would have negative views of Skibicki using a not criminally responsible defence. They cited results from a poll they commissioned suggesting more than half of the respondents believed it would be unacceptable to find Skibicki not criminally responsible. 

Skibicki’s lawyer Leonard Tailleur said Monday they plan to call an expert to speak to the not criminally responsible defence. 

"We're prepared for every eventuality ... we're ready to go," Tailleur  told reporters. 

A finding of not criminally responsible means the accused was incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of an act due to a mental disorder. The person is detained in a hospital until a review board determines they are no longer a threat to the public.

The case dates back to 2022, when partial remains of Rebecca Contois were found in a garbage bin and at a city-run landfill.

The case quickly expanded to include three more victims.

Police said they believe the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran are at a different, privately owned dump outside of the city – the Prairie Green landfill.

The location of the fourth victim -- an unidentified woman Indigenous leaders have named Buffalo Woman -- is unknown.

Harris’s family said they were shocked by Monday's revelation in court but are happy the trial is going ahead in front of a judge. 

"This man has killed four of our women, and he will be held responsible," said Melissa Robinson, Harris's cousin. 

Countrywide protests were held after police said they would not search the landfill for Harris and Myran, citing the complexity of a search and concerns over safety given the presence of toxic materials. 

Last month, the federal and Manitoba governments committed a combined $40 million for a search of the site.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.