Not criminally responsible: Why Mathew de Grood is unlikely to be convicted of murder despite killing 5

Matthew de Grood has admitted he stabbed five young people to death at a Calgary house party in 2014 — but it is unlikely that the 24-year-old will be convicted of murder and be sent to prison.

Evidence speaks to de Grood's mental state at time of killings

De Grood likely to be found NCR, says forensic psychologist

5 years ago
Patrick Baillie explains when a not criminally responsible finding applies, and what that means for the defendant. 3:32

Matthew de Grood has admitted he stabbed five young people to death at a Calgary house party in 2014 — but it is unlikely that the 24-year-old will be convicted of murder.

De Grood pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder as his trial began Monday, 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.

Murder refers to intention. A person has to have the intention to kill in order to be found guilty of one of the most egregious acts within the Criminal Code.

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

Matthew de Grood, shown on the left on the first day of his murder trial on May 16, 2016, and on the right in happier days, admitted in court that he killed five people by stabbing them to death. But he pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and was found not criminally responsible for the killings. (Sketch by Janice Fletcher/Photo by Canadian Press)

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 willful 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 so far speaks to his mental state at the time of the killings. Court has 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.

If Justice Eric Macklin decides de Grood is NCR, he will be sent to a psychiatric facility for treatment rather than a prison. 

What is not known is whether the Crown prosecutor will pursue a "high risk" NCR designation — a change in legislation that took effect in 2014 as part of the federal Conservatives' tough on crime initiative — though there is an ongoing legal debate as to whether the designation can be applied retroactively.

Matthew de Grood's lawyer Allan Fay says he's concerned the Crown will seek the 'high risk' NCR designation for his client. (Rachel Maclean/CBC)

"Of course that's a concern," said de Grood's lawyer, Allan Fay. "The Crown has not to this point indicated that they anticipate that application, but of course that's subject to change, so yeah, I am concerned."

Typically, patients are reviewed annually but in the case of the high risk designation, people can go three years between reviews. 

"I think it was a solution in search of a problem in that nobody had identified a major error that review boards were making," said Baillie.  

"The bottom line is the review boards have traditionally done a very good job of figuring out who should be released and who shouldn't be released."

Alberta's review board panel includes two judges — one each from Edmonton and Calgary — as well as psychiatrists and other community members.

The panel is tasked with evaluating a person's responsiveness to treatment, willingness to accept responsibility, and success of outings into the community.

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

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.

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)

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.

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)

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. 

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

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.