Skip to content

DNA, undercover evidence detailed as Langley manslaughter trial begins

Obnes Regis accused of manslaughter in death of his wife, Naomi Onotera
Kirsten Kerr, the sister of Naomi Onotera, and husband Nick Kerr were outside the courthouse on the first day of the trial of Onotera’s husband, Obnes Regis, on May 27, 2024. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

The trial of a Langley man accused of killing his wife heard about forensic DNA matching, and about how a key piece of the Crown’s case was first discovered almost by chance, during the first day of testimony in New Westminster Supreme Court on Monday, May 27.

Steen Hartsen, a specialist at a BCIT lab that analyzes DNA for homicide cases and the B.C. Coroner’s Service, testified about how tissue samples were matched to schoolteacher Naomi Onotera.

He testified in the manslaughter trial of Obnes Regis, who is accused of killing Onotera around the end of August, 2021. In addition to manslaughter, Regis is charged with interfering with human remains, with the Crown prosecutors alleging he dismembered and disposed of her body after the killing.

Onotera’s disappearance led to a major search and pleas for help by her family and friends in the fall of 2021.

While it was at first investigated as a missing persons case, by mid-September investigators had become suspicious that her husband, Regis, was involved in her disappearance. Regis was arrested in mid-December and has been in custody awaiting trial ever since.

Persons charged with a criminal offence are considered not guilty until the charges are proven in court.

On Monday afternoon, Crown prosecutor Crichton Pike led Hartsen through testimony about DNA and how experts study and process samples to determine which person they match.

The testimony focused on a few of the samples that Hartsen analyzed. The first was from the B.C. Coroner’s Service, and the second was gathered by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

The first sample Hartsen was provided came from two individuals, but most of it was from one person, who the lab designated as “unidentified female one.”

“The vast majority of the DNA belonged to that major component,” Hartsen said.

The lab compared the DNA to samples from Onotera’s mother and sister, and found that the sample came from a child or sibling of the known samples.

The odds of it being someone who was not that closely related was approximately one in 10 trillion.

“That’s the highest result that I can recall seeing,” Hartsen said of a familial comparison test.

Another sample received from IHIT was compared to the first “unidentified female one” sample.

“They were an exact match,” said Hartsen.

The odds of the samples belonging to another random person were about one in 94 nonillion, he testified. A nonillion is a one followed by 30 zeroes.

Justice Martha Devlin has already heard about the sources of the samples sent to the lab.

During a voir dire hearing held before the trial, police testified about how a cadaver-detecting dog signalled at a mitre saw on the front lawn of the home where Regis and Onotera had lived.

Police seized the saw, and the officer who picked it up testified to finding a piece of suspected human remains underneath, as well.

Investigators who took apart the saw and other tools found human hair and other biological remains inside blade guards.

Some of the tools tested were seized during an undercover Mr. Big-style operation. In a Mr. Big operation, officers pretending to be criminals gain a suspect’s confidence, then draw out details of crimes the suspect allegedly committed.

In this case, testimony and recordings have been admitted into evidence about Regis allegedly showing the undercover officers how he carried Onotera’s bones, sliced into small pieces and placed in a backpack, and flung them into the Fraser River from the Fort to Fort Trail in Fort Langley.

Video footage and other evidence at least partially corroborates that claim. Surveillance footage captured Regis, carrying the couple’s daughter and a black backpack, taking a circuitous late-night trip around the Lower Mainland on Aug. 29 and the early morning hours of Aug. 30, 2021.

Part of that route was with a cab that took him from the Cascades Casino in downtown Langley City to Fort Langley, where the driver dropped him off near the parking lot of the Fort Pub.

After allegedly describing to the officers how he disposed of the bones, Regis told them about how the police dogs had zeroed in on the mitre saw during a search. He had concerns about other tools, including a handsaw.

The officers allegedly helped Regis search for the saw and other tools, and when two of them located one of the missing tools on his porch, they described Regis as being so happy that he gave one of them a spontaneous hug.

The undercover officers carted off all the tools, along with a bucket and an empty jug of bleach. Several of them were later analyzed for blood and DNA.

Pike’s summary of evidence noted that police first learned about Regis’s trip to Fort Langley because of a false sighting of Onotera.

On Sept. 1 after Onotera’s disappearance, an investigator spoke to a woman who thought she had seen the missing teacher at around 2 a.m. on Aug. 30 outside the casino.

The investigator determined it had not been Onotera, but asked if the witness had seen anything else unusual. She mentioned seeing a man with a young child getting into a cab in the parking lot at 2 a.m., which she thought was strange.

The man was later determined to have been Regis.

Outside of the courthouse on Monday, Onotera’s sister, Kirsten Kerr, said she was glad to have the trial finally start.

“And we want to thank the community and all our family and friends for all our support, for all the support,” she said. “And we just want to see the outcome that we’re hoping for – a conviction and a strong sentence.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Dead Langley woman’s family hoping for ‘strong sentence’ in husband’s trial

READ MORE: Gruesome evidence introduced in Langley manslaughter hearing

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
Read more