Saskatoon

Judge finds Kellie Johnson not criminally responsible for killing son, 5

A Saskatoon judge has found Kellie Johnson not criminally responsible for stabbing her five-year-old son to death in 2014.

WARNING: This story contains graphic details

Kellie Johnson arrives at court this spring during her first-degree murder trial. (CBC)

A Saskatoon judge has found Kellie Johnson not criminally responsible for killing her five-year-old son in 2014.

Johnson, 38, was charged with the first-degree murder of Jonathan Vetter, who was stabbed to death in his sleep at her home. Johnson pleaded not guilty.

On Tuesday, Court of Queen's Bench Judge Neil Gabrielson told the court Johnson suffered from schizophrenia and she was hallucinating when she slashed the boy's throat. Johnson stared blankly while the judge gave his decision.

Johnson's lawyer, Leslie Sullivan, does not dispute that Johnson stabbed her son. At issue was whether she was criminally responsible for his death.

During her trial earlier this year, court heard Johnson believed she was saving the boy from an evil entity known as "the woman." The imaginary figure was, in Johnson's mind, torturing her son and training him to become a sex offender.

Gabrielson said he found Johnson could not understand that her actions were morally wrong and "she was trying to save her son from eternal damnation."​

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Facts of the case

On Jan. 4, 2014, police were called to a home on Avenue R S., in Saskatoon, at about 5:30 a.m. CT. Vetter's grandfather reported his grandson was lying on his bedroom floor with blood pouring from his throat.

Vetter was pronounced dead at the scene by first responders. An autopsy showed the boy died from blood loss due to a multiple stab wounds to his neck. The coroner also found stab wounds on Vetter's right shoulder and his upper chest which appear to have been made at the same time as the neck wounds.

A large eight-inch knife, covered in blood, was located in the boy's room. During Johnson's trial, court heard she had purchased the knife two weeks before the stabbing and hid it in a crawl space.

Hospital security footage

When police arrived, Johnson wasn't home. Video surveillance from St. Paul's Hospital, about three blocks from her home, showed Johnson entering through the emergency room doors at 5:35 a.m.

Security camera footage shows Johnson walking in wearing light-coloured jeans. She's seen going into the bathroom near the emergency room. At 5:37 a.m., she left the bathroom wearing dark-coloured pants. She asked a security guard if she could use the phone, he said no, and Johnson left the hospital shortly after in a taxi. Police later recovered Johnson's blood-stained jeans from the bathroom garbage.

From there, court documents show, Johnson took a cab to the McDonald's on Eighth Street and Louise Avenue. She ordered food and sat down to eat. She left at around 6:20 a.m.

Johnson then took a cab to Royal University Hospital. The cab driver said there was no conversation and nothing remarkable about her demeanour.

At 6:40 a.m., Johnson walked up to the triage desk at RUH and told a nurse she was hallucinating and that she may have hurt her son very badly. The nurse asked Johnson what she might have done, and Johnson said she may have hurt Jonathan with a knife and that she was trying to save her child from hell.

Thirteen minutes later, police arrived at RUH and placed Johnson under arrest. The arresting officer described Johnson's demeanour as calm, she appeared emotionless and she did not appear nervous.

Johnson was charged with first-degree murder. She was remanded to the Saskatchewan Hospital Forensic Services in Battleford, Sask.

Murder trial

Johnson's murder trial began in February. Court heard from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela, who met the accused in 2014 to assess her mindset at the time of the stabbing.

Mela told court that Johnson she'd been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Mela said Johnson went off her medication and had an elaborate hallucination 24 hours prior to killing her son. He said Johnson told him she wanted to "lovingly preserve her son from going to hell."

Mela testified that Johnson said she knew her actions would hurt her son but still believed she was doing the right thing.

Voices in her head

The trial also learned about Johnson's past, in and out of psychiatric hospitals over the past decade. Records show Johnson first displayed signs of mental illness in 2006, when she believed, without basis, that her boyfriend was abusing her older son. In 2006, Johnson first mentions the woman in her mind that gives her orders.

Johnson was later diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, adjustment disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

Johnson also reported being visited by dead family members, who, at one point, convince her not to wear shoes for months and to walk in the middle of the street to satisfy Jesus. The court heard the medication Johnson took weakened the belief in the voices she heard but did not remove them.

With files from Devin Heroux

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