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Allan Dwayne Schoenborn was obsessed with the belief that his three young children were at risk of abuse, leading him to murder them in their beds.

It was a crime so horrendous the judge found he could not be held criminally responsible for his acts, because no reasonable or rationale person could do such a thing.

"I find that Mr. Schoenborn did commit the first-degree murder for each of his children ... but is not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder," Mr. Justice Robert Powers of B.C. Supreme Court ruled.

The children - Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8 and Cordon, 5 - had been placed in their father's care for a night by Mr. Schoenborn's estranged common-law-wife, who had just told him reconciliation was impossible.

When Darcie Clark returned to her trailer home in Merritt, B.C., on April 6, 2008, she found her three children arranged as if sleeping. They had been smothered and the girl had been struck repeatedly with a cleaver. Scrawled in blood and soy sauce were the messages "Forever Young" and "Gone to Neverland."

Judge Powers noted there was no evidence the children were at risk of sexual or drug abuse, as Mr. Schoenborn claimed.

"Mr. Schoenborn was, if anything, overprotective of his children. The irony is that the real danger to the children was Mr. Schoenborn himself and none of the dangers he imagined in his mind."

Mr. Schoenborn, dressed in red prison garb and without shoes, sat slumped in the prisoner's box throughout the hearing yesterday, although twice he raised his head to call the judge's reason's "bullshit."

A mental health review board will examine his case, but he is expected to be transferred to a forensic mental health facility.

Defence lawyer Peter Wilson said it was one of the most difficult cases he has handled. "The facts are appalling," he said. "He loved his children; what he did doesn't make any sense."

Crown lawyer Glenn Kelt, who argued that Mr. Schoenborn was motivated by wanting to punish Ms. Clark, said an appeal will be considered. But he said he was not surprised by the verdict: "It was fine."

That Mr. Schoenborn murdered his children was never at issue in the trial: The only point of dispute has been his mental state at the time.

After taking the children to fly kites on April 5, Mr. Schoenborn said he believed he found evidence that his boy Max was being molested because of an odd smell in the boy's hair. At that point, he said, he decided he had to kill them to save them.

He waited until the children were asleep. He attacked his daughter with a cleaver, and when that didn't kill her, he smothered her. He then smothered and strangled his little boys.

Although he then attempted suicide, he gave up and fled into the bush. He was found after a 10-day police manhunt, captured at gunpoint by a local hunter and guide who had been carrying on his own search without police sanction.Mr. Schoenborn, a Vancouver roofer with a Grade 9 education and a history of mental illness, had followed the family to Merritt in hopes of reconciling with Ms. Clark. Just weeks earlier, he had pleaded guilty to violating a protection order that was put in place after he was accused of sexually assaulting her.

The trial heard that Mr. Schoenborn was consumed by jealousy and paranoia. From the moment Ms. Clark told him she was expecting their first child, he began accusing her of being unfaithful.

He had been treated for psychotic illness, but refused to take his medication. In the months before the killings, he lost his job, was homeless and had been told a reunion with his family was impossible.

Mr. Schoenborn's case has raised questions about government support for domestic-violence prevention and about how bail hearings are managed.

Days before the children were killed, Mr. Schoenborn was arrested over a disturbing incident at Kaitlynne's elementary school. He was charged with two counts of uttering threats to cause bodily harm after he threatened a young girl who had upset his daughter.

Police asked that Mr. Schoenborn be held in custody over the weekend until April 7, when he could be brought before a judge in person.

Instead, in a bail hearing by telephone, justice of the peace Fraser Hodge agreed to free Mr. Schoenborn.

"I know we're close to the line here on this one, but I am going to give Mr. Schoenborn a chance," Mr. Hodge concluded. "I want you to remember that you got a good break on this, and, you know, appreciate that. Don't let anything [go]wrong," he told Mr. Schoenborn.

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