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This article was published 4/3/2009 (3063 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WARNING: Details of this case may offend some readers.
Vincent Li's fate is now in the hands of a Manitoba judge.
The high-profile second-degree murder case against Li wrapped up quickly this morning with the final witness and closing arguments heard.
Queen’s Bench Justice John Scurfield has reserved his verdict until Thursday at 10 a.m. The sole issue for him to decide is whether Li is should go to a prison or a hospital for the July 2008 stabbing, beheading and cannibalizing of Tim McLean on board a Greyhound bus.
The outcome of the case doesn’t appear to be in doubt. Both Crown and defence lawyers presented evidence during the two-day trial that shows Li was suffering from a major mental illness at the time of the incident and should be found not criminally responsible (NCR).
"This is as close to beyond a reasonable doubt as you can get. There’s no contradictory evidence here," Li’s lawyer, Alan Libman, told Scurfield this morning during his five-minute closing address.-P96xavpg.js">
Prosecutor Joyce Dalmyn said her department had a duty to raise the issue of criminal responsibility even though it is very controversial with the general public.
If convicted of murder, Li would receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years. If found NCR, he would go to a mental health facility in Selkirk for an indefinite period and be subject to annual reviews to determine if he’s received sufficient treatment to be returned to society.
"The Crown can’t ask this court to convict Li of second-degree murder when all evidence points to him being not criminally responsible," said Dalmyn.
Dr. Jonathan Rootenberg, a forensic psychiatrist who met with Li at the request of his lawyers, told court today that he believes Li didn't know what he was doing when attacked the sleeping McLean without warning or provocation.
"He certainly didn't know it was wrong. He was quite psychotic during that time period," said Rootenberg. He said Li likely didn't view McLean as a "human being" as he attacked.
"He viewed the unfortunate victim as a demon," said Rootenberg.
He echoed the findings of the Crown's lone witness, Dr. Stanley Yaren, who told court Tuesday how Li claims voices from God in his head caused him to single out McLean for death.
Rootenberg also agreed with Yaren's view that, despite committing one of the most gruesome crimes in Canadian history, Li could one day be rehabilitated and return to society.
Yaren told court that the admitted killer has a very strong chance to recover from themental illness and extreme psychosis that triggered the slaying of McLean.
He described Li as an otherwise "decent person" who was suffering from untreated schizophrenia and clearly out of his mind when he believed he was acting on God’s commands to eliminate "the force of evil" by attacking the sleeping McLean.
"He was being tormented by auditory hallucinations," said Yaren, who has worked with Li at the Health Sciences Centre psychiatric ward since last August. "He believed Mr. McLean was a force of evil and was about to execute him. He had to act fast, urgently, to save himself. This wasn’t an innocent bystander or stranger he chose to kill, but rather an evil force he was commanded to kill."
Yaren, a witness on behalf of the Crown, is the director of forensic psychiatry for both the province and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. He has concluded that Li should be found not criminally responsible for his actions based on his mental state at the time. Such a ruling would send him to a hospital, instead of a prison, for an indefinite period.
Li admits he killed McLean but began his case Tuesday by pleading not guilty by reason of a mental disorder.
"He didn’t understand, in my opinion, that he was just killing an innocent bystander. He understood this was the only action he could take," Yaren told Court of Queen’s Bench Justice John Scurfield. Once McLean was obviously dead from dozens of stab wounds to the back and chest, Li continued to hear voices demanding he attack the body, he said.
"He was terrified, frightened, tormented. Mr. Li’s fear, because of what he was being told through these hallucinated voices, is that what he perceived to be the evil being would come back to life, through some supernatural powers and finish him off. He was in a frenzy to prevent this from happening," said Yaren.
He said Li has been co-operative and made significant strides since being hospitalized and medicated and could function again in the community — something Yaren admits doesn’t sit well with most people, including the victim’s family.
"I completely understand the need for a sense of justice, of retribution," said Yaren. "It would be in some sense easier if Mr. Li was an anti-social psychopath with a history of malicious behaviour, but he isn’t that. He is, as I’ve come to know him, a decent person. He is as much a victim of this horrendous illness... as Mr. McLean was a victim. Don’t hate the person. Hate the illness."
Yaren conceded Li’s actions could not have been predicted, given that he had no prior criminal record or a violent history. Yaren described him as polite, humble and hard-working and not a "monstrous psychopath."
"The man I described, without psychosis, would have had no reason to (kill McLean)," he said.
He said Li began experiencing psychotic episodes around 2003, including a 2005 incident where he was picked up by police walking down Highway 401 in Ontario, believing he was "following the sun" after shedding most of his possessions. He was briefly hospitalized in Etobicoke, Ont., but received no follow-up after refusing to accept he had an illness or take any treatment, court was told.
Yaren said there remains a stigma with mental illness that is difficult to overcome, especially for men.
"Our society as a whole doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for people with a severe mental illness," he said. Yaren said Li is slowly beginning to realize what he’s done but still doesn’t accept the fact he consumed some of McLean’s body parts.
"It may be he’s blocked it from his consciousness... that it’s just too awful for him to contemplate," he said. Yaren believes Li could make a significant recovery in the next few years under rigorous treatment and medication but still continues suffering some delusions, including a belief he will one day be executed.
"He is not 100 per cent out of his psychotic phase yet," he said. "But over time, as he recovers, he will have to come to terms with the awful things that have occurred."
Free Press reporter Bruce Owen is Twittering live from Li's trial. Find out more.