Accused killer acted ‘to save himself’
Li was tormented but can recover, psychiatrist says
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2009 (5080 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WARNING: Contents of this trial coverage could offend some readers.
Vincent Li claims voices from God in his head caused him to single out a perfect stranger, stab him multiple times and then decapitate, defile and cannibalize the body in front of dozens of witnesses.
But despite committing one of the most gruesome crimes in Canadian history, Li could one day be rehabilitated and return to society, according to his psychiatrist.
Dr. Stanley Yaren told Li’s second-degree murder trial Tuesday that the admitted killer has a very strong chance to recover from the major mental illness and extreme psychosis that triggered last summer’s slaying of 22-year-old Tim McLean on board a Greyhound bus. 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."
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.