Calgary

'No winners' in case of mushroom-fuelled attack on MRU prof, says victim's family

The university student who attacked a professor while high on magic mushrooms was "out of his mind" and should not be found guilty, argued his lawyer on Friday.

Matthew Brown on trial for assault with a weapon and break and enter

Matthew Brown is on trial for assault with a weapon and two counts of breaking and entering. He is accused of attacking a university professor with a broom handle in 2018. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

The university student who attacked a professor while naked and high on magic mushrooms was "out of his mind" and should not be found guilty, argued his lawyer on Friday.

"Matthew Brown is a good man who did something completely out of character," said lawyer Sean Fagan when arguing his client should be acquitted based on the defence of extreme intoxication.

Brown is on trial for break and enter and aggravated assault. Lawyers for both sides made closing arguments Friday before Court of Queen's Bench Justice Michele Hollins.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 13, 2018, after eating several grams of magic mushrooms with friends in the southwest community of Springbank Hill, he "ran into the night" naked, according to one witness.

Mount Royal University professor Janet Hamnett, 68, was attacked with a broken broom handle by Brown who had broken into her home and entered her bedroom around 4:30 a.m. She suffered several injuries including a broken hand. 

The MRU connection between Brown and Hamnett was a coincidence. 

Hollins called the case "difficult" and said given the "complexity of the legal issues," it would take several months to issue a decision. A date for a verdict will be set in January.

Janet Hamnett was badly beaten in January 2018 by a man who broke into her home. She suffered broken bones in her hand. (Court exhibit)

Following a hearing held ahead of the trial, Fagan successfully argued the current law is a violation of his client's Charter rights and was allowed to put forward a defence of extreme intoxication to the point of automatism.

Fagan said his client "did not voluntarily commit these offences." Earlier in the week, a doctor who specializes in forensic toxicology said Brown had likely experienced an episode of delirium where he was unaware of his surroundings and may have suffered delusions and hallucinations.

Prosecutor Matthew Block argued Brown should be convicted.

"The law presumes that one's actions are voluntary," said Block.

"We can all feel some sympathy for the accused and where he finds himself," said Block.

But Block said sympathy should not take away from the fact of what Brown did to Hamnett and the Varshneys, another couple whose home was also broken into by the accused.

Block also argued there was not enough evidence for the defence to meet its burden to prove Brown was acting involuntarily.

'No winners': victim's family

Hamnett's family called the case "weird and complex." 

"As we wait for a verdict, we will move on with our lives, and do have sympathy for the accused — it's hard seeing a young person's life and his family impacted this way," said Lara Unsworth, Hamnett's daughter.

But that does not take away from the impact on the victims, said Unsworth.

"How that looks, we do not know, nor do we think him going away with hardened criminals for years is the answer. But he did choose to get that intoxicated, and he did do what he's accused of doing, and there should be some sort of ownership and accountability for that.

"At the end of the day, there are no winners."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter.

now