Court of Appeal reserves decision on privileges for man who killed five people

·3 min read

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on whether a mentally ill man who fatally stabbed five young people at a house party should have more privileges.

A provincial mental health review board ruled last September that Matthew de Grood was making progress as a patient at Alberta Hospital Edmonton, but would not be allowed to go into a group home in the next year.

Lawyer Allan Fay told three Court of Appeal judges Thursday that the Alberta Review Board failed to properly consider evidence from his client's treatment team when it removed the privilege that had previously been granted.

"The board seemed to engage in speculation and dwell on what-ifs," he told the court.

De Grood was found not criminally responsible for killing Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong in Calgary on April 15, 2014. It was ruled that he was delusional at the time and did not understand his actions were wrong.

In September 2020, the board ruled that de Grood still posed a "significant threat to the safety of the public."

Fay said the board chairman said he was uncomfortable with de Grood being in the community. But Fay told the court Thursday it isn't a question of whether the board is comfortable.

"It's a question of whether or not the board can reach that level of uncomfortableness based on the evidence presented to them," he said.

Fay said the board was concerned that his client, who has schizophrenia, might stop taking his medication and suddenly descend into full-blown psychosis.

"Even if Mr. de Grood began to experience decompensation ... this would be a slow process — weeks, if not months."

The lawyer said his client has never shown any signs of failing to take his medication and, in fact, is "extremely engaged" with respect to his medication.

Crown lawyer Matthew Griener argued in support of the board's decision.

"The ... decision with respect to the 24-hour group home accommodation privilege can be justified," he said.

Griener said it's difficult to forecast risk, but noted the decision by the board was based on de Grood's treatment history and a plan by his doctors to change his medication.

A similar change in medication in the past, he said, had led to a deterioration in de Grood's condition.

"That's a risk that will have to be managed," said Griener.

He said any deterioration would be likely to follow the same pattern as the initial onset of the disease.

"There was a long period where he was able to maintain his day-to-day functioning," he said. "His symptoms were not easily detectable by the people around him."

Griener added that many of de Grood's past symptoms happened at night, which could make it difficult to notice in a group home.

"He was described more or less as a model patient by the treatment team, but there was also evidence before the board that, in the event of a relapse, that insight ... can't be counted on," he said.

"That's a relevant factor to the risk analysis that the board undertook."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2021.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press