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Mental illness defence relies on accused's word that he saw monsters: Crown

NEW WESTMINSTER — A Crown prosecutor says there's no reliable evidence to support an argument that a man who stabbed two high school girls in Abbotsford, B.C., was having a psychotic break and didn't realize they were human.

NEW WESTMINSTER — A Crown prosecutor says there's no reliable evidence to support an argument that a man who stabbed two high school girls in Abbotsford, B.C., was having a psychotic break and didn't realize they were human. 

Gabriel Klein was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in March for the 2016 attack that killed 13-year-old Letisha Reimer and injured her friend. 

Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday in a hearing in which Klein's lawyer argued his client should not be held criminally responsible because he suffered a mental disorder that led him to believe he was stabbing monsters.

However, Crown prosecutor Rob Macgowan said the judge hearing the case would have to accept Klein's version of events in order to rule in his favour.

"If you don't accept Klein's word for it, we submit that all you would be left with is the same body of evidence upon which he was found guilty of murder and aggravated assault," Macgowan told the judge Thursday.

Macgowan argued that instead of a psychotic break, evidence suggests Klein's anti-social personality disorder led him to commit the crimes for "no good reason."

The B.C. Supreme Court has heard that Klein was waiting in a rotunda that connects Abbotsford Senior Secondary with a public library when he encountered the girls. 

He testified in court that he was suicidal and was waiting to use a computer to email his mother. As he waited, he said he saw a witch and zombie with maggots coming out of its back and heard a voice telling him to "kill" before he stabbed them. 

He did not realize what he had done until after the fact, he told the court. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders while in custody awaiting trial. 

In order to be found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder under the Criminal Code, the judge must conclude that Klein was suffering a disorder that made him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of his crime, or of understanding that it was wrong.

Macgowan said Klein has not suggested he couldn't understand that stabbing people could result in their death, nor that stabbing people is wrong. Instead, Macgowan said Klein's case rests on the judge finding he did not understand that he was stabbing people.

"That is the nature of Mr. Klein's defence," Macgowan said. 

The problem is that any evidence confirming Klein's perceptions at the time leads back to his own words, including reports or testimony from expert witnesses who say they believe Klein's claims, Macgowan argued. Case law indicates it's the court's jurisdiction to make a finding of fact, not the expert witnesses.

Klein has offered varying accounts of what he saw, what the voices in his head told him and the events leading up to the attack. He has also described what he saw at different times as a witch, a zombie, a grey owl and a person with a beak, Macgowan said. 

Martin Peters, Klein's lawyer, said Wednesday that there is general consensus among experts that schizophrenia and memories arising from psychotic events cause deficits in working memory. Inconsistencies, contradictions and imprecisions in memories of psychotic episodes are not unusual and are to be expected, Peters said. 

But Macgowan argued that doesn't make Klein a reliable witness. 

"The presence of internal inconsistencies are not rendered irrelevant the moment someone claims to be in a psychotic state," Macgowan said. 

The diagnosis of a mental disorder is also not enough to prove a person was experiencing a break with reality at the time of an offence, he said. 

Beyond the incident, Klein has admitted in court to lying on several occasions, including regarding an account of being robbed by someone dressed as a clown, and during a conversation with one of the doctors examining him, Macgowan said.

Klein demonstrated a willingness to hurt others even though he understood it was wrong when he said he considered attacking a police officer with a knife while considering suicide, Macgowan argued.

Macgowan urged Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes to stick with her assessment of Klein during his conviction as someone who knew what he was doing.

Two experts found it likely that Klein suffers from an anti-social personality disorder, which wouldn't lead to a psychotic break but could help explain his actions. 

"It's the Crown's submission that what emerges on the evidence of this case both at trial and now at this hearing is a picture of an angry, frustrated, depressed and desperate individual — one who has anti-social personality traits, one who has voiced an intention to commit a violent crime," said Macgowan.

Holmes said she would set a date to deliver her decision during a meeting on Feb. 10. 

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

The Canadian Press