Defence in high school stabbing trial says accused did not have intent for murder
NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- The lawyer for a man accused in a fatal stabbing at an Abbotsford high school in 2016 is arguing his client did not have the intent to murder, and should be found guilty of the lesser included charge of manslaughter.
Martin Peters began his closing arguments Wednesday at the trial of Gabriel Klein, who is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault in connection with the attack at Abbotsford Senior Secondary on Nov. 1, 2016.
Thirteen-year-old Letisha Reimer was killed and another student was seriously injured. Klein has pleaded not guilty.
The court has heard defence has never been in dispute that Klein was the person responsible, and the Crown said he has not raised the defence of not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder, as they expected.
Peters told the court the defence concedes the Crown has proven the offence of aggravated assault, but is arguing the fatal stabbing should be considered manslaughter, not murder.
Peters is arguing “mental stresses” in combination with alcohol consumption should raise doubt about whether Klein understood at the time of the stabbings his actions were likely to result in death.
“We’re not claiming insanity, but the submission that I made was that there was a mental disorder, and mental stresses, which raised a reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Klein had the specific intent to kill Letisha Reimer,” Peters said outside court.
A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence. There is no mandatory minimum sentence for a manslaughter conviction, unless a firearm was involved in the commission of the offence.
Peters challenged the Crown’s submission that Klein may have been faking some of his behaviour following the stabbings to appear mentally ill. The court heard Klein had mentioned using the defence of not criminally responsible to a psychiatrist in the days after the attack.
Peters told the court he doesn't know where Klein got that idea, but said clearly he was considering his situation and what was going to happen to him.
“Prisoners talk all the time. Jails are noisy places,” Peters told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes, and noted the case Klein was involved in was “high-profile.”
Peters argued there was no suggestion Klein was “faking” at a pretrial centre where he left blood on the wall after banging his head, and had to be restrained. He also referenced testimony about Klein’s time in hospital, when the accused alternated between talking about the American election and watching football to staring at the wall and defecating in his bed multiple times.
“This guy is all over the map,” Peters said, calling the behaviour odd and dysfunctional, but “not indicative” of faking.
Peters also took issue with the Crown’s argument that Klein’s actions leading up to the stabbing were “goal-directed” and “purposeful.” He noted Klein told a doctor he thought of attacking a police officer with the knife, to get the police to kill him. Peters argued Klein's intention with the knife was “to make sure his life ends”, and stole liquor “to get drunk.” Peters called it “dysfunctional behaviour,” but not the acts of someone carrying out a plan to enter a high school and kill someone they’d never met.
“We’re not dealing with a fully functional individual here,” Peters said. “Therefore, it goes back to the point of intent: he didn’t have the capacity to intend to kill Letisha Reimer.”
Prosecutor Rob Macgowan finished two days of closing arguments on Tuesday, and told the court the way Klein acted before and after the attack is evidence he would have been aware of the consequences of his actions, and could have formed the intent for murder.
“There is no psychiatric evidence whatsoever as to Mr. Klein’s state of mind at the time of the stabbings, much less any evidence that his ability to form an intent for murder would have been adversely affected by the mental illness from which he now suffers,” Macgowan said.
“For these reasons, the Crown submits that this is a case much like those where the nature and brutality of the killing lead inexorably to the conclusion that the accused meant to cause death, or meant to cause bodily harm likely to end in that result.”
Macgowan referred to testimony about Klein having a shaking episode, which doctors testified was not consistent with seizure behaviour, and alternating between being calm to screaming and thrashing. Macgowan also brought up testimony about court appearances where Klein had to be put in a wheelchair, when corrections records show he was capable of moving.
“There is little in the way of evidence before the court that would connect that behaviour to any particular mental illness,” Macgowan said. “In the Crown’s submission, the way Mr. Klein was behaving was one that one might reasonably expect someone who was trying to appear mentally ill to behave.”
On Monday, Macgowan went over evidence from psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Saffy, who spoke to Klein in the days following the stabbings. She testified Klein told her he thought about attacking a police officer to get the police to kill him, and planned to use the defence of not criminally responsible in his trial. She also told the court Klein said the students who were stabbed initially looked to him like “monsters,” describing one as a grey owl, and the other a “shape-shifting witch.” Macgowan later referred to those comments as “self-serving” and “inherently untrustworthy.”
Macgowan told the court the evidence shows Klein was angry, desperate and hopeless at the time of the attack.
Multiple witnesses testified Klein told them he wanted to go home to Alberta, and wanted to talk to his family, in the days leading up to the attack.
One shelter worker testified she had spoken to Klein’s mother and she only wanted him to contact her via email.
Another worker told the court she gave Klein directions to the public library attached to the high school so he could use the computer there.
Earlier this year, the BC Review Board found Klein fit to stand trial, after hearing in 2018 he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In January, Klein’s lawyer said there was a change in his medication and his mental state had improved.
Closing arguments have now concluded. The judge is set to issue her decision in the case on Feb. 21.