Nova Scotia

Man admits to murdering mother and grandparents in 2015 house fire

Codey Hennigar has admitted to killing his mother and grandparents in January 2015 but lawyers for the defence and Crown say he should be found not criminally responsible.

Warning: this story contains graphic information some readers may find disturbing

Codey Reginald Hennigar argues he should be found not criminally responsible for the 2015 deaths of his mother and two grandparents. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Multiple witnesses heard Codey Hennigar make violent threats against his family in the months before he beat his grandfather to death and left his grandmother and mother to die in a burning home.

This is according to a statement of facts presented on Monday as Hennigar started his murder trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. The 32-year-old has admitted he killed his mother and maternal grandparents in January 2015, but says he should be found not criminally responsible for the crimes. 

Crown and defence lawyers agree Hennigar is not criminally responsible for the three counts of second-degree murder, and are calling expert evidence this week to try to convince a judge.

Hennigar lived in cabin on property

Hennigar was arrested shortly after police discovered the bodies of 54-year-old Mildred Ann Ward and her parents, Clifford William "Bill" and Ida Ward. They were found in the burned-out remains of the Wards's home in Wyses Corner.​ Hennigar had been living in a cabin on the property since December 2014.

The agreed statement of facts noted Hennigar's grandfather allowed him to live in the cabin — despite his grandmother's concerns — in exchange for paying the power bill and helping with chores.

The statement of facts also says Hennigar was not helping with the bill, and that his grandfather considered turning off the power; one witness told investigators that actually happened on Jan. 7, 2015, the same day as the fire.

Blunt head trauma

Autopsies showed Bill and Ida Ward died from blunt head trauma, while Ann Ward died from blunt head trauma and carbon monoxide inhalation. Both Ida Ward and Ann Ward are believed to have been alive at the time the fire started.

Following the murders, Hennigar stole his grandmother's blue Toyota Echo. Police caught up to him in Enfield, where he rammed police vehicles before being arrested.

In the Echo, police officers found blood stains, later identified as belonging to the victims, along with a blood-stained sledge hammer, blood-covered framing hammer with hair stuck to it and a blood-stained tissue. DNA samples tied that blood to the victims.

Fire investigators ruled the fire was set deliberately, and found gasoline on a dirty piece of gauze in the residence as well as on Ann Ward's socks and boots.

Hennigar felt like a 'puppet,' says psychiatrist

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Scott Theriault, who interviewed Hennigar 12 times in the immediate aftermath of the killings, was the first witness at Hennigar's trial. Theriault told court that Hennigar was initially unwilling to discuss the actual crimes.

However, as treatment progressed, Theriault said Hennigar opened up. The doctor said that in March 2015, Hennigar told him that he went to his grandparents' house and asked for water. Hennigar told Theriault he reached in his knapsack for a water bottle and his hand closed on the handle of one of the hammers instead.

Hennigar said that's when he felt like a puppet, not in control of his actions and watching like he was just an observer.

Theriault said Hennigar described himself living a dual existence and that he thought the killings would cause some sort of reconciliation. As his treatment progressed and his condition stabilized, Hennigar described his mother and grandparents as "three of my favourite people."

Two more forensic psychiatrists are expected to testify before the case wraps up this week.

CBC News reporter Blair Rhodes live blogged from the courtroom.