Bus beheading trial ends with both sides seeking same verdict

A two-day Winnipeg trial in a case of killing and beheading on a Greyhound bus ended Wednesday with both sides seeking the same verdict — not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.

Judge promises decision Thursday morning

A two-day Winnipeg trial in a case of killing and beheading on a Greyhound bus ended Wednesday with both sides seeking the same verdict — not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.

Vincent Li, seen in a courtroom sketch, listens to proceedings during his second-degree murder trial in Winnipeg.

The judge said he will deliver his verdict at 10 a.m. CT on Thursday.

Psychiatrists for the Crown and the defence agreed during the short trial that Vince Li, 40, was suffering from schizophrenia and did not know what he was doing when he killed 22-year-old Timothy McLean of Winnipeg on a bus in Manitoba last July.

The psychiatrists said Li believed he was acting on orders from God when he attacked McLean, mutilating the young man before decapitating him and eating part of the body.

Li had pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder, but Crown and defence lawyers asked that he be found not criminally responsible.

That verdict would mean he could be sent to a provincial psychiatric facility rather than to prison. He would be placed under the authority of a provincial review board with power to keep him in custody or, if he is no longer considered a risk, discharge him.

Toronto psychiatrist Jonathan Rootenberg, testifying for the defence, told court Wednesday that  Li suffers from schizophrenia and was probably psychotic for weeks before the attack.

Rootenberg said Li meets the criteria for an accused person who would be not criminally responsible. "He has a major mental illness that …rendered him unable to know what he was doing was wrong," the psychiatrist said, suggesting Li knew he was stabbing someone but thought it was a demon and didn't understand the nature of his actions. 

Earlier, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Yaren, testifying for the Crown, also gave evidence that Li was diagnosed as schizophrenic and suffered from a major psychotic episode — tormented by auditory hallucinations — at the time of the killing.

Yaren testified that according to Li, God told him that McLean was a "force of evil" who was about to stab Li unless he protected himself.

Killer could one day be rehabilitated, psychiatrists say

Even after the killing, Li believed McLean had supernatural powers and would come back to life unless he dismembered the body and spread the body parts around the bus, Yaren said. Li was not capable of understanding his actions were wrong, he testified.

Both psychiatrists said that Li, although he is very ill, could one day be rehabilitated and returned to society.

The CBC's Marisa Dragani, reporting from Winnipeg, said the trial was unusual for its brevity and lack of conflicting versions of events.

"In a murder trial, you usually hear from witnesses; you usually hear testimony about what happened, when and how," she said. "We didn't hear that.

"There was an agreed statement of facts, filed right off the bat, that the Crown and the defence agreed to, and that was read out in court. It was quite lengthy, and that was done to spare any of the witnesses and the family as well from reliving this horror.

Tim McLean, 22, was killed on a Greyhound bus near Portage la Prairie, Man., in July. (Family photo)

"There were about 30 or so passengers on that bus, some of whom might still be affected by what they saw that night, and no one wanted to call them forward, and they didn't want the family to have to sit in court and listen to that testimony for weeks."

In the agreed statement of facts, the Crown and defence said that Li apologized to police when he was finally arrested on the bus, from which other passengers had fled. Li attacked McLean "for no apparent reason" and ignored other horrified passengers as he stabbed the young man.

Li got on the bus in Edmonton and disembarked at a rural stop in Manitoba. He stayed there overnight, selling and burning most of his possessions. He was there 24 hours before getting on the bus again.

Around 8:30 p.m. on July 30, near Portage la Prairie, Li started stabbing McLean. The man's body was damaged in more than 100 places, the Crown said, noting the attack was so unrelentingly violent that some of the victim's body parts could not be found.

'I'm guilty. Please kill me,' Li told police

Li, court heard, was prone to unexplained absences from work and sometimes took long road trips on the bus. Despite the urging of those close to him, he refused to seek medical treatment.

RCMP officers said Li's responses were appropriate and polite when he was finally arrested.

He declined a lawyer at one point, and told police: "I'm guilty. Please kill me."

McLean's family has been lobbying for changes to the Criminal Code that would prevent a person found not criminally responsible for a crime from ever being released into the community.