A Calgary judge has ordered the suspect in the city’s worst mass killing to undergo a 30-day psychological assessment to determine if he is fit to stand trial for the stabbings that cut short five lives at an end-of-school celebration.
Matthew de Grood, who faces five counts of first-degree murder, made his first court appearance before Provincial Court Judge James Ogle via closed-circuit TV from the Calgary Remand Centre.
Dressed in blue coveralls, he spoke only to say that he could hear the proceedings. For much of the brief appearance, the 22-year-old held his hand over his left cheek, only occasionally removing his gaze from the camera in the booth where he stood.
His lawyer, Allan Fay, said Mr. de Grood – the son of a senior Calgary police officer – was suffering from a variety of injuries sustained when police apprehended him last Tuesday with the aid of police dogs.
“He’s quite cut up and lacerated up there so I think he’s a little self-conscious about that,” Mr. Fay told reporters after the hearing.
Police allege Mr. de Grood arrived at the house party after finishing work at a nearby supermarket, and mingled for a while before the knife attacks began. By all accounts, he had no history of violence. He had finished undergraduate studies and was preparing to start law school in the fall.
He was initially taken to hospital for treatment for injuries sustained in the arrest and has been held at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre. He has not seen his family since the arrest, Mr. Fay said. Mr. de Grood’s next court appearance is set for May 22.
Psychological assessments are ordered when there is question of ability to instruct counsel and deal with the rigours of a trial. As part of the evaluation, authorities will assess Mr. de Grood’s personality and intelligence, and likely examine other sources of information, such as text messages he may have sent leading up to the stabbings, legal sources said.
“If he’s deemed unfit to stand trial, he will simply be remanded in custody until he is fit to stand trial,” said Tom Engel, an Edmonton-based defence lawyer who is not involved in the case. “He may not be fit to stand trial now, but once you have the psychiatric condition under control, the likelihood is he would stand trial.”
In this initial stage, authorities will not concentrate on whether Mr. de Grood is criminally responsible for the crime – that determination will be made through a separate process. However, Toronto defence lawyer Breese Davies said if any underlying mental disorder is discovered, it could eventually have a bearing on later stages of the case.
“Whether it will ultimately lead to another assessment for criminal responsibility or not is hard to predict,” Ms. Davies said.
In one of Canada’s most infamous killings, Vince Li was found not criminally responsible for beheading fellow Greyhound bus passenger Tim McLean in 2008. Based on that determination, and his mental-health progress since, Mr. Li – a schizophrenic – was allowed unescorted trips from the Selkirk Mental Health Centre in Manitoba earlier this year.
In Mr. de Grood’s case, the assessment is not about his state of mind on April 15, the day of the killings. But University of Calgary law professor Chris Levy said that “inevitably it will touch on those issues, and my suspicion is that when we get much closer to trial, the real issue actually is going to be what was this man’s state of mind at the time of the events.”
Crown prosecutor Stephanie Brown had sought the evaluation, and Mr. Fay agreed to the move. Ms. Brown said she could not comment on the case because it was still being investigated.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with him and I’ve found him to be lucid. He seemed to appreciate the situation he’s in, but … I’m not a professional psychiatrist,” he said. Asked if Mr. de Grood was on suicide watch, he said: “Not to my knowledge.”
Funerals were being held this week for the victims: Jordan Segura, 22; Kaiti Perras, 23; Josh Hunter, 23; Zackariah Rathwell, 21; and Lawrence Hong, 27.
With a report from Carrie Tait