Gregory Despres should not be held criminally responsible for his alleged involvement in the death of his elderly neighbours, a Halifax psychiatrist testifying for the defence told Fredericton's Court of Queen's Bench Monday.
Despres is accused of killing Fred Fulton, 74, and Verna Decarie, 70. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.
The couple were found dead in their Minto, N.B., home on April 26, 2005. Both had been stabbed repeatedly, and Fulton was decapitated.
Despres, who is a paranoid schizophrenic, thought he was a military assassin on an assignment at the time of the deaths and would not have been able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions, Dr. Scott Theriault testified.
Despres, 25, has never admitted to the killings. The man has insisted he was "walking down Main Street" during the time of the deaths.
Second trial for Despres
This is the second trial for Despres. It is being heard by Justice William Grant alone. His first trial was halted in 2007 after he exhibited bizarre behaviour in the courtroom. After a psychiatric assessment, he was declared unfit to stand trial and ordered to undergo treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.
A provincial review board later ruled that Despres had responded well to psychiatric treatment, understood the court proceedings and the charges against him and was fit to stand trial again.
Theriault was the doctor who decided Despres was again fit to stand trial in June 2007. He also re-examined Despres on Nov. 30 after the second trial adjourned to allow the Crown and defence to ready expert witnesses to testify if the man could be held criminally responsible for the killings should he be found guilty.
For an individual to be found not criminally responsible, they must have a mental disorder and that illness must be found to have had an impact on behaviour during the situation being examined.
"You look at what they said, what they did or reportedly did and information about what other people saw the person do," Theriault said. "Then you look at information directly after. … There is evidence in my mind of Mr. Despres having mental illness immediately before and after April 25th."
Theriault said Despres's belief that he was in the military continued until he began to be treated for his illness.
"If he was delusional, he would have been acting in accordance with what he believed he needed to do," he said.
Theriault said he didn't see any evidence that Despres was trying to fake illness.
If Despres were allowed to discontinue his current treatment he may pose a threat to the public, Theriault said.
Mother testifies Despres had normal childhood
Earlier in the day, Despres's mother, Jeannie Depres, told the court that her son was a loving child who did well in school and had lots of friends.
"I never had problems with him growing up," Depres said. "It was just the two of us. He was involved in sports and Air Cadets. As a teen, he worked part-time jobs."
Despres said she became concerned about some of her son's behaviour when he was about 16 but thought it was likely just teenage rebellion.
She noticed more changes in her son's behaviour when, at age 17, he decided to move from Massachusetts back to Minto to live with his estranged father, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Despres said after her son moved, she only had contact with him by telephone and did not see him again until she herself returned to Minto when her son was 19.
His mother testified that she still didn't get to spend much time with him but did notice changes in his personality.
"When he was growing up, we talked about everything and anything, but when I moved back to Minto, he seemed withdrawn," she told the court. "He was closing me out of his life."
Despres said her son would often spend entire days in his bedroom and would rarely go out. He would also use strange accents and sometimes talk about harming himself, she said.
"There were strange conversations," she said. "He was convinced he was a member of the Hells Angels or in the military or part of a militant group. I knew he didn't have a military background."
She said she had asked her son whether he was using drugs and he had told her that he didn't do drugs because when he did, he heard voices in his head and it scared him.
Despres said she tried to find help for her son but was told that since he was over 18, he would need to give written permission for doctors to discuss his health with her. She said her son refused to go to the doctor to seek help.
Victims' relatives frustrated
Relatives of Fulton and Decarie said they are frustrated by the lengthy court proceedings.
"It's going to be three years this April since this crime happened, and we've been going through the court process for a year now," said Mike Richardson, Fulton's nephew. "It just seems to be a waste of taxpayers' money."
Anything less than a murder conviction would be seen as an injustice by the family, said one family member.
The court has adjourned until Tuesday.