'What are you supposed to do? Sit there and get killed?': Vandewater defends prison slaying of Van Camp

WARNING: This story contains details and images some readers may find disturbing

Tyler Vandewater says he had no choice but to repeatedly stab his cellmate Chris Van Camp in self-defence in what he described as an unexpected confrontation that quickly turned lethal.

Vandwater, 31, is on trial for second-degree murder in the June 2017 death of Chris Van Camp, 37. The two shared a cell in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary unit reserved for Terror Squad members and affiliates. 

Vandewater said Van Camp quickly morphed into a paranoid state when returned to their cell late on June 6, 2017. 

According to Vandewater, after the cell door was locked for the night at 11 p.m. CST and Vandewater turned over a homemade prison shank to Van Camp, Van Camp began pacing the cell in his underwear, convinced other inmates were plotting against him. 

After Vandewater told Van Camp to calm down and rest on his bunk, Van Camp grew angry and attacked Vandewater with the blade, according to Vandewater.

Vandewater defended himself with his own shank, he said. He stabbed Van Camp 26 times in the head.

"There's no guards. I'm in a locked cell. There's no one coming in to save me," Vandewater said while under cross-examination Monday morning.

"Your life's on the line and no one's coming to stop that, so what are you supposed to do? Sit there and get killed?"

Court of Queen's Bench

Court has heard that guards didn't find Van Camp's body until some time after 8 a.m. CST the next morning, June 7. Vandewater admitted to cleaning up the bloody scene.

Crown lawyer Linh Lê asked Vandewater why he didn't instead pass a note to the guards under his cell door or press the cell's emergency call button to alert them about what happened. 

Vandewater said he was afraid of what would happen once Terror Squad members learned of Van Camp's death. 

Lê also pressed Vandewater on why he repeatedly kicked Van Camp in the head, after the stabbings.

"I don't know if it's a state of shock, I'm not a doctor, but sometimes you're acting and you don't even know what you're doing," he said. 

Lê confirmed Vandewater's previous convictions include robbery, assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. 

Three additional convictions for aggravated assault came in 2019, two years after the fatal fight with Van Camp in 2017.

Court of Queen's Bench

Darren Nilsson, the Terror Squad's former "range rep" for the unit, was the last defence witness Monday. His cell was next door to Vandewater and Van Camp's. 

He said he thought Van Camp was high that night and that Van Camp asked for his shank. He also corroborated Vandewater's claim that Van Camp was concerned with others plotting against him.

Nilson said he heard a short "commotion" next door but was unsure who started the fight.

He said learning of Van Camp's death the next morning was a "rude awakening."

Nilsson said he knew of no one wanting to retaliate against Vandewater for what happened to Van Camp.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected to take place Wednesday.