Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut April 10, 2015 - 7:49 am

Nunavut teen not criminally responsible for woman’s death: defence

"People who commit criminal acts under the influence of mental illness should not be held criminally responsible for their acts"

THOMAS ROHNER
Closing arguments in the case of a 16-year-old accused of second-degree murder continue April 10 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Closing arguments in the case of a 16-year-old accused of second-degree murder continue April 10 at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

When he fatally stabbed a young mother 27 times in her Igloolik home in 2012, a young Igloolik man was suffering from a psychosis, with his thinking and emotions so impaired, he had lost contact with reality and was unable to tell right from wrong.

That’s according to the young man’s defence lawyer, Shayne Kert, who made her final submissions April 9 in her client’s second-degree murder trial at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

The identity of the young man, now 19, who has already admitted to the 2012 killing of Tracy Uttak, is protected under a publication ban because he was 16 in 2012 when he was charged with first degree murder in connection with Uttak’s death.

In her closing arguments April 9, Kert asked Nunavut Justice Andrew Mahar to find the accused not criminally responsible for Uttak’s death.

She said he likely suffered from an untreated mental illness — schizophrenia — at the time: he followed the commands of hallucinated voices and was incapable of knowing either the legal or moral consequences of his actions at the exact moment he stabbed Uttak, Kert said.

But to prove the accused is not criminally responsible, Kert needs to convince Mahar on a “balance of probabilities” — meaning that it is more likely than not that the young man suffered from a psychosis when he stabbed Uttak.

Uttak’s family and community suffered an enormous loss at her death and it’s understandable for them to feel someone should be held responsible for the tragedy, Kert said.

“But it is a fundamental tenet of our criminal justice system that people who commit criminal acts under the influence of mental illness should not be held criminally responsible for their acts, the same way that sane, responsible people are,” Kert told Mahar.

Kert outlined the accused’s history of mental illness for the court on April 9.

Between March 2011 and Nov. 29, 2012 — the date Uttak died —  the 16-year-old reported to numerous health care professionals, including local nurses, a pediatrician and psychiatrists, that he heard voices in his head telling him to harm, even kill, himself and those around him, Kert said.

Often, it was the same male voice that spoke to her client, commanding him to carry out violent acts, she said.

Kert said witnesses testified that the teenager was agitated, angry, scared and tired of the voices in the weeks leading up to Uttak’s death.

The day before killing Uttak, the accused told his mother that somebody was going to die, but that he didn’t know why, Kert said.

He was laughing when he told his mother this, Kert said.

And she related how, on the morning of Nov. 29, 2012, the accused went to the local psychiatric nurse who prescribed the teen an anti-psychotic drug.

At home that night, the brother of the accused testified that he heard screaming coming from the bedroom, Kert told the court.

“Get out of my head! Get out of my head!” is what the accused man’s brother said he heard.

Kert said that the teenager was filled with remorse after killing Uttak.

“[He] was heartbroken,” Kert told Mahar, adding that he cried constantly and felt he had no choice in what he had done.

But, even if the accused felt the moral weight of stabbing Uttak, that doesn’t mean he should be held criminally responsible, Kert argued.

That’s because he was incapable of rationalizing, compelled by the symptoms of his psychosis — and the hallucinated commands.

“Any such knowledge appears to be in retrospect, after the killing,” Kert said.

The voices — particularly a familiar male voice — continued to haunt the accused for months after the stabbing, Kert said.

And these voices continued until the accused was prescribed another anti-psychotic drug in March 2013.

Kert ended her final submissions around 2:30 p.m. April 9. Crown lawyer Barry McLaren is scheduled to begin his final submissions at 9 a.m. April 10.

The Crown has said that, should the young man be found guilty, they will make an application under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for an order that would have him sentenced as an adult.

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