NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. – A schizophrenic man accused of murdering a high school student in Abbotsford, B.C., may never be well enough for the court case to go ahead, his lawyer says.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes ruled Friday that Gabriel Klein is currently unfit to stand trial because of his mental state.
Klein is accused of the second-degree murder of 13-year-old Letisha Reimer and the aggravated assault of another Grade 9 student who was also attacked in the lobby of Abbotsford Senior Secondary in November 2016.
Klein’s psychiatrist, Dr. Marcel Hediger, told the court earlier this week that his patient is actively psychotic, reports hearing voices and at times his disordered thinking may make him unfit to stand trial.
Holmes said she took that testimony into account when making her decision.
“Mr. Klein has a right to be present during the entirety of the trial. This requires more than just physical presence.”
The judge said Klein would also need to be able to follow the proceedings and communicate with his lawyer.
Crown lawyer Rob Macgowan told the judge on Thursday that if the court accepts evidence establishing there are times Klein isn’t fit for trial, then the Crown was not opposed.
Outside of court Friday, Klein’s lawyer, Martin Peters, said he is not confident that the case will ever reach trial.
“He may be found permanently unfit,” Peters said, noting that if that were to happen, charges would be stayed and his client would remain in custody.
For now, Klein has been sent back to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C., where he has been admitted four times since his arrest in November 2016. His current treatment began in August 2017.
The British Columbia Review Board will re-evaluate Klein’s mental fitness within 90 days. If the board determines he’s fit at that time, he’ll be returned to court for another fitness hearing.
“Often it’s a bit of a back and forth between hospital and court as to when somebody’s psychosis and mental disorder is as fragile as Mr. Klein’s is,” Peters said.
Hediger testified that Klein thinks the CIA is following him and that correctional staff are trying to poison him through his medication.
The psychiatrist said the man’s mental state is variable and very fragile, and it was “fairly likely” that the stress of a drawn-out trial would cause Klein’s state to deteriorate to a point where he would be unable to follow the proceedings or communicate with his lawyer.
Klein’s trial had been set to start May 7.
If trial had gone ahead, Peters said his defence team would have pursued a verdict of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.
When asked if justice would be served if Klein never went to trial, Peters said it would, because Canada doesn’t allow mentally unfit people to stand trial.
“The point of this exercise is to make sure that when Mr. Klein goes to trial, he has a fair hearing,” he said. “And the laws in this country are such that if somebody is unfit for trial, they’re unable to participate in their own trial, that is not a fair hearing and not one that the courts would condone.”
Peters said that the decision may be difficult for those impacted by the crimes.
“This is never easy for victims. And I’m sure this is not an easy result for them,” he said.
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