Not criminally responsible: Mathew de Grood and 7 other NCR cases

Matthew de Grood was found not criminally responsible in the 2014 killings of five young people. We take a look at other high-profile cases where the designation was used some successful, some not.

Calgary man could be labelled high-risk

The cases of Matthew de Grood, left, Vincent Li and Guy Turcotte all involved the not criminally responsible (NCR) defence. (Canadian Press)

As Matthew de Grood is found not criminally responsible (NCR) in the 2014 killings of five young people, we look at other high-profile cases where the designation was used, some successfully, some not.

De Grood pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder despite admitting to killing Lawrence Hong, 27, Joshua Hunter, 23, Kaitlin Perras, 23, Zackariah Rathwell, 21, and ​Jordan Segura, 22, as they celebrated the end of university classes in the early hours of April 15, 2014.

​In a very small number of cases, an accused person is found to be suffering from such severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, that while they were committing the illegal act, they could not appreciate what they were doing was morally wrong.

In those rare cases, the accused person is found to be not criminally responsible (NCR).

In Alberta, between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, 19 people were found to be not criminally responsible. In the next 12 months, another 19 people were deemed NCR. 

Compare those numbers to the approximate 60,000 criminal arrests in the province each year, according to statistics from Alberta Justice.

"I think there needs to be a fair amount of explanation as well as a fair amount of reassurance to the public about the all-important issue of risk when an individual is found NCR," said forensic psychologist Patrick Baillie.

"It means that whatever behaviour they engaged in wasn't the sort of wilful behaviour we typically associate with a criminal offence."

A psychotic break?

Under Section 16 (1) of Canada's Criminal Code, a person cannot be found criminally responsible "for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing it was wrong."

Nationally, about 1 out of 1,000 criminal cases are found to be NCR; Baillie says of those, fewer than 10 per cent are for violent offences.

The evidence at de Grood's trial spoke to his mental state at the time of the killings. Court heard that hours before the stabbings, he sent ominous messages and told friends he thought the end of the world was imminent.

De Grood, who had garlic stuffed inside his clothing at the time of his arrest, posted messages online talking about killing vampires and told people he was an alien, according to an agreed statement of facts.

De Grood's father, a 30-year veteran of the Calgary Police Service, considered swearing a mental health warrant in the days before the killings as he and his wife had become increasingly concerned about their son's apparently deteriorating mental health.

Periodic reviews

The NCR decision means de Grood will be sent to a psychiatric facility for treatment rather than a prison, with periodic reviews conducted by a board, which includes two judges, psychiatrists and community members.

De Grood could also be labelled with the high-risk NCR designation, which would mean longer periods between reviews and harsher restrictions on his movements.

The Crown will determine whether to make a high-risk NCR application after de Grood undergoes his first mental health review 90 days from now, prosecutor Neil Wiberg told reporters.

Once the board feels the risk is low enough that they don't pose a risk to the community, the person is released.

Rates of recidivism for those found to be NCR are much lower than those convicted of a crime. Recent studies put recidivism rates at seven per cent for violent crimes and four per cent for non-violent crimes.

That's five times less than it is for those convicted and sent to serve jail or prison time.

Here are some of the most notable Canadian NCR cases:

Vincent Li

In what is likely Canada's most notorious case of NCR, Vincent Li beheaded Tim McLean while the two passengers were riding a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie, Man., in July 2008. Li's attack was unprovoked — he said he heard voices telling him to kill McLean. In an 2012 interview, Li said he had believed he was chosen by God to save people from an alien attack and later understood the voices he heard as schizophrenia. Li, who changed his name to Will Baker, has lived in a halfway house in Winnipeg and is looking for more freedom from the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board.

Vincent Li heard voices telling him to kill a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus to Winnipeg in 2008. (Canadian Press)

Trevor Kloschinsky 

Trevor Kloschinsky was found not criminally responsible in the beating and strangling death of retired RCMP officer Rod Lazenby in 2012. Court heard that Kloschinsky, who bred dogs, thought Lazenby, who worked as a bylaw officer, was stealing his animals. "He displayed a delusional system that he was being persecuted by a number of agencies and it had been going on for some time," forensic psychiatrist Dr. Sergio Santana testified. "He developed the idea that his victim planned to destroy him financially ... that Lazenby was a corrupt police officer." Kloschinsky was actively psychotic at the time of the killing.

Trevor Kloschinsky from Priddis, Alta., was charged with first-degree murder in the death of peace officer Rod Lazenby and was eventually found not criminally responsible. (Courtesy of Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald)

Guy Turcotte

Former Quebec cardiologist Guy Turcotte admitted to stabbing to death his children, Olivier, 5, and Anne-Sophie, 3, but the jury in his first trial in 2011 returned a verdict of not criminally responsible after 10 days of deliberations. The saga drew international headlines and reignited the debate over criminal responsibility in Canada. Eventually, an Appeal Court ordered a new trial, where experts on both sides agreed that he was suffering from an adjustment disorder with symptoms of anxiety and depression. They differed on his state of mind, however, with defence experts saying Turcotte was obsessed with suicide, mentally ill and incapable of telling right from wrong. Prosecution experts countered that he was in control and responsible for the acts. In 2015, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder and Turcotte was sentenced to life in prison. 

Guy Turcotte was originally found not criminally responsible for killing his children, ages 3 and 5 years old. But years later, a second trial ended in a second-degree murder conviction. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Allan Schoenborn

Allan ​Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder in the 2008 stabbing and smothering deaths of his children Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8, and Cordon, 5, in Merritt, B.C. In the trial, defence lawyers said Schoenborn was not criminally responsible due to mental illness but the Crown argued the killings were an act of revenge against their mother for refusing to renew their relationship. In 2015, Schoenborn was granted escorted outings into the community, but the Crown is now seeking to have him designated a "high-risk accused." If labelled high-risk, Schoenborn would lose privileges including access to escorted day passes. As well, his review hearings would take place once every three years, instead of every year. Dave Teixeira, a spokesman for the children's mother, Darcie Clarke, says there have been 48 documented incidents of violence during Schoeborn's incarceration, and that information presented at previous reviews indicates he has opted out of all treatment. Schoeborn's high-risk accused hearing began in May 2016 and will resume in June.

Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible in the 2008 stabbing and smothering deaths of his three children in Merritt, BC. (CBC)

Luka Rocco Magnotta

Luka Rocco Magnotta was found guilty of first-degree murder on Dec. 23, 2014, marking another notable case in which a not criminally responsible defence was not successful. Magnotta was convicted of a total of five charges in the May 2012 death and dismemberment of Chinese exchange student Jun Lin. Magnotta admitted to causing Lin's death, but his defence lawyer argued that Magnotta was not of sound mind during the killing. Experts testified on his behalf that Magnotta is schizophrenic and was psychotic and out of touch with reality the night of the slaying. But prosecutor Louis Bouthillier said in killing Lin, Magnotta kept a promise made several months earlier to take the life of a human being.

Luka Rocco Magnotta was found guilty of first-degree murder on Dec. 23, 2014, marking another notable case in which a not criminally responsible defence was unsuccessful. (Canadian Press)

Richard Kachkar

Richard Kachkar stole a snow plow in the early morning of Jan. 12, 2011 and in the middle of a two-hour rampage with it he hit and killed Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell. Various witnesses heard him yell about the Taliban, Chinese technology and microchips. Psychiatrists concluded he was psychotic, but struggled with an exact diagnosis. He was found not criminally responsible and was ordered to be held in the secure unit of a mental health hospital near Toronto. The Ontario Review Board stirred controversy, however, by allowing Kachkar to take escorted trips into the community. The crown unsuccessfully appealed that provision, and the board recently renewed Kachkar's right to sojourns beyond hospital grounds.

Richard Kachkar was found not criminally responsible and was ordered to be held in the secure unit of a mental health hospital near Toronto. (Canadian Press)

Francis Proulx

Francis Proulx entered the home of Nancy Michaud, an aide to a Quebec cabinet minister, in 2008 and took her hostage while her two children slept. He took credit cards and banking information and shot her in the head. Proulx then had sex with her corpse. During his trial, he argued he was not criminally responsible because of a mental issue, saying he was on medication at the time of the crime. But he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal.

Francis Proulx was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal. (Canadian Press)

With files from Canadian Press