The Nova Scotia man charged with murdering a gay rights activist has been sent back to the hospital where he was supposed to be the night of the brutal beating.

Andre Noel Denny, 32, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Raymond Taavel.

He was remanded to the East Coast Forensic Hospital for an assessment after a brief court appearance today.

Denny, who has a history of mental illness and violence, gave reporters the finger as he was led inside the Halifax courthouse. Then he claimed self-defence.

"Public drunken fight. Self-defence. What can I say?" he said as he was led into the courtroom.

Many of Taavel's friends showed up at the courthouse for the latest development in a case that has shocked the city.

Taavel, 49, was killed outside Menz Bar, a popular gay club on Gottingen Street in Halifax, early Tuesday.

Police said it appears Taavel tried to break up a fight between two men after leaving the bar.

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Andre Denny, charged in the death of Raymond Taavel, gives reporters the finger as he arrives at the courthouse. (CBC)

Two witnesses told police the attacker used a homophobic slur. One witness told CBC News that Taavel's head was repeatedly slammed into the street.

Denny was arrested in a nearby alley shortly after the attack. He is a patient who failed to return to the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth after a one-hour leave.

Denny was sent to the facility after being found not criminally responsible on a charge of assault causing bodily harm in Sydney.

Lawyer Pavel  Boubnov, who represented Denny in that case, told CBC News that Denny should not have been on the streets.

Boubnov spoke with Denny on Tuesday after his arrest.

"I'm not a psychiatrist, I'm a lawyer. But I base this conclusion on his past history, especially his past history of mixing alcohol and anti-psychotic medication," Boubnov said.

Boubnov said Denny was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 15. He said his former client only becomes violent if he drinks alcohol, which he was doing Monday night.

"When his illness is under control he is not a violent person," Boubnov said.

He said Denny is a "very, very sick man."

"His version, to my understanding, is that he was being attacked, he was under attack and he fought to protect himself," Boubnov said.

Police investigate possible hate crime

Capital Health, the health authority that runs the hospital, has launched an internal review into the matter.

In court documents, Denny is described as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He is also described as being grossly psychotic with a history of aggressive impulsivity and unpredictability.

Police said they were still investigating the motive, but they haven't ruled out a possible hate crime.

Boubnov said Denny didn't express any homophobic sentiments while they were working together.

Hundreds of mourners took part in a vigil Tuesday night to remember Taavel, a former chairman of Gay Pride week events and a well-known editor for Wayves magazine.

Candles burned at the site near Menz Bar overnight.

The scene outside Menz Bar this morning. (Phonse Jessome/CBC)