'We really needed to hear that': Man who beat Calgary professor while high on mushrooms apologizes to victim

The family of a Calgary professor who was attacked in her bedroom by a naked man who was high on mushrooms got what they've waited nearly two years for — an apology.

In January 2018, Janet Hamnett, 68, suffered several injuries including a broken hand when she was beaten with a broom handle by Matthew Brown. Coincidentally, he was a student at the same school, Mount Royal University (MRU). 

Brown is on trial for break and enter and assault with a weapon. Defence lawyer Sean Fagan called his client to testify in his own defence Thursday and although Brown said he has no memory of the attack on Hamnett, he believes he committed the crimes.

The 28-year-old cried as he looked at his victim's family, saying he feels ashamed. 

"I feel awful, I sincerely want to apologize to [Hamnett] and her family," said Brown. "No one should ever have to go through that, I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

'A nightmare for all involved'

Hamnett's daughter and son-in-law were in the gallery and said Brown came across as genuine and felt his words were "meaningful."

"We really needed to hear that," said Lara Unsworth. "I'm sure he would take that day back …I think this has been a nightmare for all involved."

Meghan Grant/CBC

Brown's lawyer will put forward a defence of extreme intoxication to the point of automatism, meaning Sean Fagan will argue his client was too high on magic mushrooms to understand his actions at the time of the attack.

Normally that defence is not permitted, but in a hearing held ahead of the trial, Brown's lawyer successfully argued the current law is a violation of his client's Charter rights.

Unsworth said her entire family works in education and would like to see some good come out of the "heartbreaking" situation. Something that looks more like restorative justice or Brown speaking to students about his experience.

"This changed his life forever too," said Unsworth.

2.5 grams of mushrooms

The six-foot hockey player spoke softly during his testimony. 

Brown said he grew up in Truro, N.S., before moving to Moncton when he was 15-years-old to play in the QMJHL living with billet families there and in Quebec City for the next four years.

Eventually, Brown moved to Calgary to play for MRU. 

Court exhibit

On Jan. 12, 2018, Brown, who was finishing his business degree at the time, planned to stay the night at a friend's house in the southwest neighbourhood of Springbank Hill so he could have a few drinks and not worry about driving home.

The three young men at the gathering began taking magic mushrooms. Brown estimates that over the course of the night he went back to the sandwich bag of drugs several times, consuming about 2.5 grams. 

Brown said he'd done magic mushrooms once before, taking about a gram which made him feel "fuzzy."  "It was a positive experience."

'Ashamed and remorseful'

But in the early morning hours of Jan. 13, Brown said he started feeling "wonky" like he was "losing his grip on reality." Brown said he couldn't figure out where he was or what was going on. 

Earlier in the trial, other witnesses testified that around 4:30 a.m., Brown appeared at the door of the home and "ran into the night." 

After playing beer pong in his friend's basement, Brown's next memory is seeing his girlfriend's face in hospital.

"Did you assault Ms. Hamnett?" defence lawyer Sean Fagan asked his client.

"I have no memory of that but I think I did," said Brown.

"I would never do anything like that unless I was completely out of my mind."

When he learned what he'd done to Hamnett, Brown teared up: "I was shocked and ashamed and remorseful. I couldn't believe it had happened."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Michele Hollins will hear from more defence witnesses Thursday afternoon.