Calgary

Teen accused of killing Calgary youth worker 'extremely childlike,' lawyer says as psych assessment ordered

The 18-year-old accused of killing a youth worker at a Calgary assisted living facility last week has a violent history, according to the victim's union, as a judge heard concerns over the teen's mental capacity.

Deborah Onwu, 47, was killed at an assisted-living residence

Deborah Onwu, 47, was allegedly stabbed to death by her teen client in a dispute while working as a caseworker at an assisted living residence for Wood's Homes in Calgary. (Facebook)

The 18-year-old accused of killing a youth worker at a Calgary assisted living facility last week has a violent history, according to the victim's union, as a judge heard concerns over the teen's mental capacity. 

Brandon Jacob Spencer Newman comes across as "extremely childlike," said defence lawyer Allan Fay after his client's brief appearance in a Calgary court on Friday.

Newman is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Deborah Onwu, who was a case worker with Wood's Homes, a non-profit organization that offers mental health programs and services for at-risk children and youth.

Fay says he is worried his client does not understand what has happened and may not grasp the gravity of the situation.

"I'm concerned with his ability to properly instruct counsel," Fay said outside court. "He strikes me as an extremely childlike individual."

Newman has violent history: union

Judge Susan Pepper ordered Newman to return to the provincial court on Monday so he can see a court-appointed psychiatrist. At that time, a 30-day psychiatric assessment may be ordered.

Onwu, 47, was a caseworker who was supporting Newman at his Wood's Homes assisted living residence. 

Police say a verbal fight between Onwu and Newman turned physical before the caseworker was fatally stabbed.

Onwu's union, CUPE, said she should not have been working alone.

"Deborah Onwu was stabbed while dealing with a client with complex mental health needs and a violent history," CUPE spokesperson Lou Arab said a press release sent out Friday.

Newman was previously classified as needing a two-to-one care ratio, according to CUPE's internal investigation.

'We don't want to be killed'

CUPE is calling for higher safety standards and staffing levels to protect its workers.

On the night that Onwu was killed, her co-worker was on another floor dealing with a different client.

"CUPE has been raising concerns about the safety of employees with Woods Homes for some time," said Arab. "She was no doubt unsafe handling Mr. Newman alone."

Several friends and co-workers of Onwu's were in court for the appearance. They echoed the concerns of the union.

"We love what we do, we love our jobs," said Rebecca Opoku-Amayaw. "We love to provide care for those who need it but we don't want to be killed in the course of doing so."

Opoku-Amayaw described Onwu as a close friend who was more like a sister. Opoku-Amayaw is also a caseworker, though not at Wood's Homes.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.