A northern B.C. man who stabbed his common-law partner to death with the blade of a multitool and then buried her at a remote natural gas site has been found guilty of manslaughter and indignity to human remains.
John Wendell Keyler was charged with second-degree murder in the 2020 slaying of 38-year-old Sarah Foord at their home in Taylor.
But on Tuesday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said the evidence didn't definitively show Keyler intended to kill Foord, which is necessary for a murder conviction.
"Ultimately, I cannot discount the reasonable possibility that the defendant was experiencing effects akin to psychosis arising from his state of cocaine and alcohol intoxication. I therefore have a doubt that he understood the true circumstances as they existed at the time he stabbed Ms. Foord," Justice James Williams said in his oral reasons for judgment.
He instead found Keyler guilty of the lesser included charge of manslaughter.
Foord was stabbed about 50 times with the blade of Keyler's Leatherman in the early morning hours of July 7, 2020, according to an autopsy report quoted in the judgment.
Keyler admitted that he then crammed her body into a garbage can, loaded it into his truck and buried it at a gas well site near Buick Creek, before fleeing more than 1,000 kilometres south to Surrey by way of Alberta.
He confessed the killing to police in Fort St. John two weeks later, after returning north.
'I did not know what was going on'
During his trial, Keyler testified that he was in the thralls of a substance-induced psychosis after months of regular drug and alcohol use, and believed he was in danger from "people crawling under the house" when he began stabbing Foord.
"I was so drunk and high I did not know what was going on," he told the court.
The court heard that Keyler had been laid off from his job in the oil and gas industry four months earlier and was living with Foord in her mobile home.
During Keyler's testimony, he described an escalating pattern of drug use for the couple involving alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth, methadone and cannabis. They were also under significant stress because of money troubles and Keyler's jealousy toward some of Foord's friends.
The couple spent the day before the stabbing drinking and doing drugs. Keyler told the court they were in the bathroom listening to music, but when the music stopped, he started hearing noises and believed there were people coming for him.
He testified that he took his Leatherman for protection and pulled Foord toward him and into the bathtub while she swore and struggled.
"He said he remembered holding and hugging her and stabbing her, poking her in the back a few times," the judgment says.
"When asked why he did that, he said he did not know and did not want to, other than that he was trying to protect himself; he felt that if she was near, nothing would happen to him. He said he thought she had set him up and that people were going to kill him."
Keyler told the court he woke up a few hours later under a shower curtain in a tub half-filled with water. Foord was on the floor and could not be roused when he tried to wake her.
After snorting some cocaine, he realized she was dead, although he claimed in court that he could not see any stab wounds on her body. Keyler then buried the body at the well site and tossed the multitool in a body of water nearby.
A forensic psychiatrist who examined Keyler while he was awaiting trial said it was possible, based on Keyler's recollection of the stabbing, that he experienced a substance-induced psychotic disorder, according to the judgment.
However, the psychiatrist also offered a second possible explanation for the homicide — that it was another disturbing case of extreme intimate partner violence.
"That hypothesis includes the fact that Mr. Keyler is known to be struggling with anger and control while managing his intimate relationships, that he has clear antisocial traits that contribute to violent behaviour, and that there was a long-standing conflict between Mr. Keyler and Ms. Foord founded in jealousy," the judge said.
In the end, Williams went on, "I am unable to say that either theory is correct or incorrect," and therefore the charge of murder could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Keyler has yet to be sentenced for his crimes. There is no mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter unless it is committed with a firearm.