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Elderly veteran won’t be prosecuted for death of roommate

John Furman cannot remember what happened when his 85-year-old roommate was killed at a Vernon, B.C., care facility last August, which is a key reason the Crown has decided not to prosecute the decorated Second World War veteran for murder.

On Wednesday, the Crown made explicit a legal sentiment it had expressed early on in the tragic case, which shocked the Okanagan community where 95-year-old Mr. Furman, a widower without any children or known relatives, has lived since 1971.

The Crown announced it would stay the second-degree murder charge against Mr. Furman because he was in a delusional state and would likely have been found unfit for trial if it proceeded. Also, it said he is in custody at a medical facility in the region whose name has not been disclosed, and is housed in conditions where he poses no risk to staff, other patients or himself.

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"This matter becomes a medical matter rather than a criminal matter," said Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie, explaining the decision.

Indeed, it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Furman has any idea what has happened to him since Aug. 18, when staff called the RCMP to the Polson Special Care Facility after Mr. Furman assaulted William May. Mr. May's son has said police told him his father was asleep at the time of the attack.

"[Mr. Furman] remains confused and disoriented as to both his current circumstance and the circumstances of the incident in question. According to the evidence, his condition is unlikely to improve," British Columbia's criminal justice branch said in a statement issued Wednesday.

At the time, Mr. Furman had been at the care facility for 10 days. Although diagnosed with dementia, he had been able to live on his own until then. He was a frequent visitor to the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives, which has written a history of his military career.

Calgary-born Mr. Furman enlisted in the King's Own Rifles in 1942, then volunteered for a post in an American-Canadian unit known as the Devil's Brigade and saw action in the Aleutians and Europe, according to an account published by the museum.

At one point, his unit had a 77-per-cent casualty rate. He was wounded when he was hit with machine-gun fire to his neck and chest. After being discharged in 1946, Mr. Furman married Myrle Dunn, a childhood sweetheart, and they moved to Vernon.

While Mr. Furman has been the focus of prosecution, the Crown has also been mindful of the victim. "In reaching this decision [to stay charges], the Criminal Justice Branch fully appreciates the seriousness of the alleged offence as well as the tragic loss experienced by the family of William May," said the statement.

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Mr. MacKenzie said it was an unprecedented case in B.C. While there have been incidents of violence among residents of care homes in B.C., including a case earlier this year in which a 79-year-old Kamloops man died weeks after being assaulted by a fellow patient in a care facility, he said he could not recall a homicide prosecution as a result.

This is not the only recent such prosecution in Canada, however. In Toronto this month, an 81-year-old nursing home resident was charged with second-degree murder in the death of his 87-year-old roommate.

A recent CTV investigation noted at there have been 60 murders in Canadian nursing homes in the past dozen years.

Darshan Lindsay, a spokesperson for Interior Health, said it is conducting a review into the case. "It's fair to say, obviously, as a health authority we're interested in understanding the situation and what we can learn going forward," she said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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