December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
HE committed one of Winnipeg's worst acts of workplace violence and was given a life sentence with no guarantee of release.
But a former Grace Hospital employee who stabbed his boss to death in front of several colleagues has recently returned to the community after spending 14 years behind bars, documents obtained by the Free Press show.
Stephen Underwood, 60, has spent the past few months free on day parole with stringent conditions meant to reduce his risk to society. They include abstaining from drugs and alcohol -- which played a vital role in the attack -- and continuing psychological counselling for ongoing mental-health concerns. Each night, Underwood must also report to a halfway house in the city.
"The board concluded that you had come to understand what drove you to commit your extreme act of violence. Through programs, counselling, self-reflection and maturity, you gained insight into your contributing factors and demonstrated a willingness to continue dealing with your areas of concern," the parole board wrote in a November 2012 decision obtained this week.
Underwood pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the deadly May 1998 attack inside the crowded hospital. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the Crown agreed to a lesser plea after mental-health assessments found him fit to stand trial but disturbed enough to raise questions about his intent.
Underwood was given a rare life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years. However, federal officials are under no requirement to release him at any time.
Bill Larson, the Grace Hospital's manager of human resources who had tried to fire Underwood earlier in the day, was stabbed 13 times while he pleaded for his life.
"His final words were 'No, Stephen, no,' " Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd told court at the time. Underwood responded by saying "This won't take long" as he clutched a large hunting knife.
"He was very intent on what he was doing. He was a man on a mission," Leinburd said during Underwood's sentencing. Underwood walked away, placed the knife in its sheath and handed it to a hospital doctor while waiting for police.
Now, Underwood's mission is to get his life back on track, according to the parole board. Underwood has found a job and enjoys support from his wife and children. The parole board previously turned down bids from Underwood to be released between 2008 and 2012 but changed its decision last year when he began showing significant progress, including a much broader understanding of his crime and the damage he caused to Larson's family.
"It is evident that you are using program skills and community supports to assist in managing your risk," the parole board wrote.
Larson had tried to play peacemaker with Underwood hours before the attack. The disgruntled employee had refused to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as a condition of his employment after hospital officials grew concerned about his attitude and relationship with other employees, court was told.
Larson had decided to fire Underwood, but the man became enraged with his union representative and started choking him. Larson broke up the fight and Underwood vented his anger toward his boss, blaming him for the troubles. Underwood left and Larson returned to his office but remained "nervous."
His fears were realized hours later when Underwood returned and attacked him while co-workers watched in horror.
Larson left behind a wife and three grown sons.
Following the killing, defence lawyer Saul Simmonds blamed the Grace Hospital, Underwood's union and medical officials for a complete "system failure," which he believes caused his client's deadly attack.
"This case is a blueprint for disaster," said Simmonds, noting his client had a wife and young daughter and was a loving family man before the tragedy. "He was not some sort of dangerous animal," he said.
He said Underwood had previously been diagnosed as suffering from social phobia and paranoia but required more substantial help than he was given. He said the hospital and union officials only compounded his problems by making him feel like an outcast at work, and said psychiatrists and a psychologist he was seeing failed to get him the treatment he required.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A3