Attacker was psychotic during Greyhound decapitation: trial

Li a 'decent person,' believed he was eliminating 'force of evil,' doctor testifies


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WARNING: Details of this case may offend some readers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/03/2009 (5081 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WARNING: Details of this case may offend some readers.

Vincent Li has a strong chance to recover from a major mental illness that caused him to kill, behead and cannibalize a sleeping passenger on board a Greyhound bus last summer, a doctor told a Winnipeg court this afternoon.

Dr. Stanley Yaren described Li as a "decent person" who was clearly out of his mind when he believed he was acting on God’s orders to eliminate "the force of evil" and attacked Tim McLean.

Vince Li

Yaren said Li has made significant strides since being hospitalized after his arrest and could one day 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," Yaren told Queen’s Bench Justice John Scurfield.

"But (Li) is as much of a victim of this horrible illness … as Mr. McLean is a victim. Don’t hate the person. Hate the illness."

Yaren, who has worked closely with Li at the Health Sciences Centre, said Li was clearly suffering from a major psychotic episode as a result of schizophrenia at the time of the attack.

He said the Li’s actions could not have been predicted, given that he had no prior criminal record or history of any violence. 

Li believed the 22-year-old McLean was going to "execute" him if he didn’t act fast, said Yaren, director of forensic psychiatry for both the province and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

After killing him, Li thought he had to further decapitate and defile McLean’s body for fear he’d come back to life to "finish him off."

Li has had episodes dating back to around 2005, when he was picked up by police walking down an Ontario highway, believing he was "following the sun" after shedding most of his posessions, said Yaren.

He was briefly hospitalized in Ontario but received no further follow-up.

A Manitoba Crown attorney began Li’s second-degree murder trial this morning by reading the horrific details of McLean’s death.

Prosecutor Joyce Dalman told Queen’s Bench Justice John Scurfield that lawyers have agreed on a statement of facts in the case, and that no witnesses to the slaying would be called.

The sole issue for Scurfield to decide is whether Li should be held criminally responsible.

MIKE APORIUS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A button in Tim McLean's memory, worn by family friend Brenda Lewis at the Law Courts on Tuesday.

The Crown’s only witness, Dr. Stanley Yaren, began his testimony just after 11:30 am. Li’s lawyer is planning to call his own medical expert either later today or tomorrow.

The trial was slated to begin at 10 a.m. but started 25 minutes late because of delays in ushering people through a metal detector outside the courtroom.

Li, wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, shuffled into the room led by several sheriff’s officers, and was placed in the prisoner’s box. He sat motionless in the box, wearing a dark suit jacket, slacks and a light-coloured dress shirt and no tie.

He appeared to have lost weight since his last court appearance in August.



There was no audible reaction from the nearly two rows of family and friends of Tim McLean at the back of the courtroom. Most were wearing white T-shirts with McLean’s picture on the front.

When the court reporter read aloud the charge of second-degree murder and asked for his plea, Li responded in a clear, loud voice, "not guilty."

Dalmyn told court about Li’s background, which included coming to Canada in 2001 from China and becoming a Canadian citizen in 2005.

His few friends and family members have told police Li’s behaviour was often erratic but he repeatedy refused to get medical help.

TOM ANDRICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS An artist's sketch of Dr. Stanley Yaren, who has worked closely with Li at the Health Sciences Centre, testified Tuesday.

Just days before McLean’s murder, Li left a troubling note for his ex-wife, court was told.

"I’m gone. Don’t look for me. I wish you were happy," he wrote in the letter he left at an Edmonton apartment.

Li boarded the Greyhound in Edmonton, with a ticket that would take him to Thunder Bay.

Li rode the bus from Edmonton to Erickson, Manitoba, where he got off for 24 hours and spent most of that time sleeping and sitting on a park bench. He also sold or burned many of his possessions.

Li boarded another Greyhound bus the following day — the same one carrying McLean, who was on his way home following a summer stint on the carnival circuit.

A couple hours later, just west of Portage la Prairie, Li attacked McLean without provocation, stabbing him numerous times in the back and chest in front of three dozen horrified witnesses.

The Greyhound driver pulled to the side of the Trans Canada as Li continued his attack. Passengers fled to the side of the highway.

Li was overheard shouting "get emergency" as he continued stabbing McLean and began severing his head, the court heard.

Li tried to escape the bus, but the driver managed to shut the door on his arm, which was dangling a bloody knife.

Li moved to the very front of the bus, head in hand, and began fiddling with the main controls in an attempt to open the door.

RCMP arrived on scene and watched for several hours as Li continued to stab and defile McLean’s body.

He was also seen by police eating some of McLean’s remains. Police later discovered McLean’s two eyes, part of his heart and pieces of flesh were missing.

TOM ANDRICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS An artist's sketch of Vince Li inside the Winnipeg courtroom on Tuesday.

Li told officers he "has to stay on this bus forever" and refused demands to leave.

Shortly after 1 a.m. — more than four hours after the attack began — Li suddenly threw the knife and a pair of scissors through an open bus window and jumped out.

He struggled with police, who repeatedly stunned him with Tasers.

Li was treated at Portage hospital for several cuts, and told officers "I’m sorry" on numerous occassions.

"I’m guilty. Please kill me," he added, the court heard.

Reporter Bruce Owen is Twittering live from the Li trial. 


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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