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Szendrei killer thought assault would help his fear of women: psychologist

Mike and Rachael Szendrei, parents of Laura Szendrei who was murdered in Mackie Park in Delta September 25, 2010, sit with a photo of her during a press conference in Delta, October 13, 2010.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The adolescent offender who bludgeoned a teenage girl to death in a sexually motivated attack three years ago felt crippled by his immense anxiety around females and had an "irrational belief" that through a series of sexual assaults he could overcome his fear, a forensic psychologist has told a B.C. court.

Robert Ley is the first forensic psychologist to testify in the sentencing hearing for the man who killed Laura Szendrei, 15, in a Delta, B.C., park in September, 2010. The hearing will determine whether the offender – who was 17 at the time of the attack and 20 now – will be sentenced as an adult.

Working from about 10 hours of in-person interviews with the young man, police reports, transcripts from an undercover police operation and the assessments of other psychiatrists and psychologists, Dr. Ley concluded the offender's "incompetence and sense of failure" in relating to females was "central to his belief about the benefit of sexually assaulting a woman." The young man thought "it would reduce his tensions and – quite irrationally, in my thinking – that it might give him confidence to then approach a woman," Dr. Ley said. The offender acknowledged to doctors this was inappropriate thinking.

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"He was very pessimistic that he would ever develop the abilities to talk to a woman and interact with them, have a date," Dr. Ley said. "He was extremely fatalistic about that."

The young man feared "he would still be living with his parents as a 30-year-old and still playing video games, still never having had a date or any kind of sexual experience." This anxiety only worsened when a few of his closest friends entered relationships and began talking about their sexual exploits, the doctor said.

Two forensic psychiatrists testified earlier in the hearing that the young man required intensive, prolonged treatment that is not available in the youth criminal justice system.

However, Dr. Ley said he is "not a fan" of the high-intensity sexual offender treatment program in the federal prison system, primarily because it is "entirely run by correctional officers" with between two and three weeks of training to lead the program.

Instead, Dr. Ley favoured a provincial program, such as one offered at the medium-security Ford Mountain Correctional Centre in Chilliwack, which is run by psychologists. Dr. Ley said he "is convinced [the offender] feels awful, terrible, sick about what he did" and believed his prognosis would be "good" in such a facility.

Dr. Ley also said he believed the young man looks closer to 16 than he does 20 – an observation that drew groans and whispers from the courtroom gallery. The offender told the doctor he had been working out while in custody and "wanted to build up his size and strength in the event he went into the federal prison system, such that he could better defend himself."

Ms. Szendrei, a Burnsview Secondary School student, was violently assaulted in north Delta's Mackie Park on Sept. 25, 2010, and died early the next day. The court heard the young man intended to render her unconscious, either with cable ties or blows to the head with a steel pipe, and then sexually assault her.

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The court also heard that, in the months leading up to the attack on Ms. Szendrei, the young man had sexually assaulted three other females in the same park, exhibiting an escalating pattern of deviant behaviour. In the first, he groped a woman's behind; in the second, he attempted to pull down a woman's pants; and in the third, he struck a woman with a stick, with the intention of rendering her unconscious and assaulting her further.

If sentenced as an adult, he would receive an automatic life sentence with no eligibility of parole for a minimum of seven years. If sentenced as a minor, he would serve a maximum of seven years – four in jail and three in the community.

The hearing continues.

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