Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Full parole for workplace killer

Federal authorities cite progress after 1998 hospital knife murder

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The man responsible for one of Winnipeg's worst acts of workplace violence is now free in the community after receiving glowing recommendations from justice officials.

Stephen Underwood, 61, was granted full parole earlier this month after spending 15 years behind bars, documents obtained by the Free Press show.

Underwood pleaded guilty to manslaughter for a deadly May 1998 attack inside Grace 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.

Bill Larson, 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 in front of several colleagues. 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.

Underwood was granted day parole in late 2012, which allowed him to spend several hours at a time in the community under stringent conditions meant to reduce his risk to society. They included abstaining from drugs and alcohol and continuing psychological counselling for ongoing mental-health concerns. Each night, Underwood had to report to a halfway house in the city.

That is no longer the case. The National Parole Board recently deemed Underwood a "manageable risk" who has shown great strides toward rehabilitation, which has included the support of his wife and daughter. They say Underwood has completed numerous programs, found full-time employment and even joined a recreational hockey league.

"You have demonstrated your commitment to the expectations of your release," the parole board wrote. "There have been no indications of any violent or aggressive behaviours while you have been on day parole and you have been able to deal with problems using skills learned in programming."

Underwood is now planning to secure his own residence, resume living with his family and is only under orders not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs.

"The board has conducted a careful review of your file," they wrote. Underwood was also noted as showing great insight and remorse for his crime.

At his original sentencing, the Crown told court how Larson pleaded 'No, Stephen, no" before he was killed. Underwood responded by saying "This won't take long" as he clutched a large hunting knife. Underwood walked away, placed the weapon in its sheath and handed it to a hospital doctor while waiting for police.

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.

Following the killing, defence lawyer Saul Simmonds blamed Grace Hospital, Underwood's union and medical officials for a complete "system failure," which he believes caused his client's deadly attack.

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.

The parole board previously turned down bids from Underwood to be released between 2008 and 2012, saying he still had issues to work on.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2013 B1

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