Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Murders In Calgary Yesterday

Yesterday five university students were brutally murdered at a house party near the University of Calgary.

The headlines have been lurid, the details of the story as it unfolded on the radio yesterday were positively traumatizing.  My heart goes out to the families of the victims, but also to the family of the accused.

I have no doubt that in the coming months we will hear some very vocal calls for a harsh punishment for the person who committed these crimes.

But, I want people to take a step back and think about this for a moment.  The accused is facing 5 First Degree Murder charges.  If he is convicted of even one of those, he will be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.  Automatically.  The law is quite clear on this - it is a life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years before he is eligible for parole.

Consider for a moment the circumstances.  An end-of-semester party, to which the accused was invited.  He went there after he finished his shift at a local grocery store.  Then, shortly after he arrives, he picks up a weapon (a kitchen knife, perhaps), and starts killing people.  There is no known grudge involved between the accused and any of the victims; the accused has no prior history of violent crime.  Nothing about this that has made it into the public forum has the appearance being a deliberate, planned crime.

It is my hope that when the accused undergoes psychiatric assessment, that he is found to have experienced a psychotic episode.  The timing is right, with early adulthood being a primary time for schizophrenia onset.  A psychotic episode would explain the otherwise inexplicable tragedy that unfolded in the early morning hours of April 15.

At least if it does turn out to be a psychotic episode, we can understand what happened as a tragic result of a detachment from reality - whether temporary or long term.  There is at least an opportunity to deal with the causes more directly.  A "not criminally responsible" finding would see the accused placed in a secure psychiatric facility indefinitely - but under active treatment.

The other option is that the accused is some kind of horrible human being who is frankly beyond my comprehension.  I sincerely hope that is not the case for the sake of all involved.

[Update 17:08]
CBC is reporting two key pieces of information this afternoon on the matter of de Groode's mental health:
De Grood had an initial meeting Tuesday before a justice of the peace by telephone from his hospital bed, where he has been kept over concerns about the state of his mental health, sources told CBC News.
I have my suspicions as to what this could indicate.  Generally speaking nobody is kept in a psychiatric unit unless the present a danger to themselves or others as a result of their mental condition.
Matthew de Grood is now being held in a secure psychiatric facility after being accused of stabbing five young adults to death at a Calgary house party.
No surprise here, although the psychiatric assessment appears to have been moved up the priority list.    This makes me suspect that he may well have been exhibiting symptoms of a psychotic break after his arrest.

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