Nfld. & Labrador

If everyone agrees he isn't a criminal, why is he in jail?

Graham Veitch has been in Her Majesty's Penitentiary for the better part of 30 months, even though lawyers agree he's not criminally responsible for killing David Collins.

Graham Veitch has been in custody for 2 years, 6 months and 16 days

Graham Veitch was charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 death of his mother's partner, David Collins. All three lived at a home on Cadigan's Road in Logy Bay. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Tomorrow is the day everything changes for Graham Veitch. Tomorrow he learns his fate. 

Two years and six months after what was almost certainly the worst day of his own life and of many other lives around him, Veitch, 21, will learn if he will be held criminally responsible for the brutal killing of his mother's partner, David Collins.

Veitch is charged with second-degree murder, and a handful of other offences stemming from his flight from police after his attack on Collins.

He is being tried by judge alone, and his lawyers are arguing that he is not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

"Arguing" might actually be too strong a word. There's very little debate about anything in this trial, as the Crown and defence agree on just about everything.

Yes, Veitch killed Collins. Yes, he fled from police. Yes, he struck an officer with a stolen car.

And yes, Veitch has schizophrenia. Yes, it was undiagnosed when he slipped into a deep and dangerous psychosis.

No, he could not appreciate the consequences of his actions when he brought that hammer down on David Collins's head. 

No, he should not be held criminally responsible. 

Pharmacist David Collins, 55, died in December 2016. Both the Crown and the defence agree he was killed by Veitch. (Facebook)

However, for most of the last 30 months, the man who all sides agree is not a criminal has been living at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. 

By many estimations, it is a jail fit for no man, let alone one grappling with the most serious of mental illnesses. 

Jail before justice 

"When a person is held in jail before trial, that's called remand custody," said Rosemary Ricciardelli, a sociologist at Memorial University who studies crime and corrections. 

"That individual is considered either a flight risk or a risk to themselves or others, and thus they get held."

Rosemary Ricciardelli, a professor of sociology at Memorial University, says people who are deemed risks to themselves or others are often held in custody before facing trial. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The provincial justice department said in an emailed statement that the "placement of inmates is done on a case-by-case basis" and inmates may be transferred to hospitals if they experience a mental health crisis.

Such arrangements are to deal with immediate problems, not long-term care. 

"Unfortunately, they can't be held at the Waterford unless they're found guilty or [not] criminally responsible," Ricciardelli said.

Brutal attack

The gruesome nature of Veitch's actions is not in contention at this trial. 

The first piece of evidence entered by the Crown was a lengthy agreed statement of facts, outlining the manner in which Veitch killed Collins, just moments after the two ate dinner together in their shared Logy Bay home on Dec. 18, 2016.  

The younger man came up behind the elder and bludgeoned him with a hammer, over and over, until he believed Collins was dead. 

To friends and family, the attack seemed to be a bolt from the blue. Though the teenager expressed to friends and family some misgivings about his mother's partner, witnesses said Collins was an upstanding person and the two got along fine. Veitch had never been violent.

Psychiatrist Nizar Ladha testified that Veitch was suffering intense delusions when he killed Collins. He believed Collins to be a danger to the Veitch family, and that killing him was the right thing to do. 

Forensic psychiatrist Nazir Ladha told the court Veitch was 'incapable of distinguishing right from wrong' when he killed David Collins (Bailey White/CBC)

What seemed to everyone else like a sudden explosion was actually a slow-burning fire. 

An escalation toward a breaking point is typical for people with undiagnosed schizophrenia, said Dave Banko, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"People aren't going to go and tell their friends and their family members that they're seeing things, hearing things," he said.

"They bottle that up, and oftentimes they will get worse until they have a psychotic episode," though such episodes aren't usually violent, Banko stressed. 

The long wait

Scores of jurists, journalists and other advocates for free and open societies have argued that justice must be seen to be done. 

If the most brazen of thieves and liars can skulk through the system without their peers knowing their crimes, it is reasoned, justice has not truly been meted out.

Similarly, if the public cannot see a defendant's mental health tested, how can we trust that the test has been conducted strenuously?

Prison in itself, depending on the conditions of confinement and how a person is treated, can really impact how a person fares.- Rosemary Ricciardelli

Veitch's mental health was tested by several psychiatrists who all came to the same conclusion.

Experts told the court it is impossible that Veitch faked his symptoms. The details of his behaviour after his arrest are disturbing. Less extreme incidents included eating paint chips, drinking toilet water and walking around naked.

For justice to be seen and done takes time in this country, and Veitch, like many others who have been deemed threats to society, has spent that time held in jail awaiting trial. 

"It's interesting because prison in itself, depending on the conditions of confinement and how a person is treated, can really impact how a person fares," Ricciardelli said.

Some people do well in jail, the professor said. People who struggle to take their medications regularly, for instance, may find the regimented nature of prison life beneficial.

She believes the health department should take on a bigger role in corrections, something the province says is already in the works. A justice spokesperson said the two departments are working together and that the health department should have "responsibility for the provision of health services in prisons and the associated funding" by next year.

Ricciardelli says it is possible to treat people more like patients and less like criminals even before their trials conclude. 

"Maybe it shouldn't have to wait until after trial," she said. 

"Maybe if we can speed that up and do that sooner, we might be able to have a more effective experience."

An excruciating diagnosis

Schizophrenia is a cruel disorder, not only because of its severity, but because of the cascade of misery it can unleash. It manifests most often in teenagers and young adults on the cusp of maturity with their futures ahead. It is often misdiagnosed or misunderstood.

"Usually people will get diagnosed after everything else has been eliminated," Banko said.

"You don't really know if someone is hallucinating or seeing anything because they're the ones experiencing it. So oftentimes when people go and seek help, if they're not sharing that aspect … then they may only get treated for depression." 

We don't hear the positive stories, we only hear the stuff in the news where someone commits a horrible act.- Dave Banko

It's not until later, as the disorder progresses, that a true diagnosis is typically made, Banko said. 

By then, a person living with it may have slipped into psychosis and away from reality, enveloped in a delusion and surrounded most often by auditory hallucinations that may command any number of actions, including suicide. 

Only a small fraction of people with schizophrenia are violent, Banko said, but those are the cases that usually make the news. 

"We don't hear the positive stories, we only hear the stuff in the news where someone commits a horrible act," he said.  

Dave Banko is the executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. He says the illness is usually diagnosed in the teens or early adulthood. (Gary Locke/CBC)

The cost of this, he said, is tremendous stigma that discourages people who are suffering from seeking help and can even lead families to ignore important signs. 

No one wants to believe they have a disorder that others are afraid of.

It's a disorder that, even when well managed, will require careful moderation and frequent changes to medications, many of which have taxing side effects including weight gain, loss of libido and organ damage.

"There is no one-size-fits-all," Banko said. "Sometimes the medication might work, and then for whatever reason, it might stop."

Banko wants everyone to know that it is doable for people with schizophrenia to lead perfectly normal lives. But is it doable in jail?

"Recovery is possible with pretty well everyone with a mental illness, but they need the support of family, caregivers, community supports, medical professionals," he said. 

"But they don't have that in the correctional system. Especially in this province."

Decision day

At the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, no one is arguing that Graham Veitch is guilty of second degree murder, but the decision is Justice Sandra Chaytor's to make. 

A photo taken by an RNC officer in an interview room shows an 18-year-old Graham Veitch shortly after he was arrested. (CBC)

During closing submissions, Chaytor described the evidence as "not contentious" and thanked the two sides for their collaborative, sensitive approach. 

If Graham Veitch is found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder, it does not mean he will walk free. He will almost certainly be transferred to the Waterford Hospital to be held indefinitely, until a review board deems him fit to be released. 

Whatever happens, Ricciardelli said, it is unlikely that Veitch will be the last person with schizophrenia to be held in jail before a trial.

"In order to change our system," she began, "we have to start by changing the attitudes individuals have towards the people who are incarcerated and be willing to invest in all persons in our society."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.

With files from Jeremy Eaton