A man who attacked a woman in Rosemont in July has been found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disability.
Paul Hernandez, 49, was charged with assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.
At the beginning of the trial, the crown prosecutor and the defence council agreed on the following set of facts:
On July 8, 2015, while visiting her family in Nelson, Janice Worgul of Edmonton was walking on the 1100 block West Innes with her grandson in a stroller.
Hernandez passed her on a bike, stopped, and yelled at her, telling her to get off his property.
He struck her repeatedly with the blade of a pruning saw on her head, neck, throat, and face. She fell, he stomped on her face, and she lost consciousness.
The child in the stroller was not harmed.
Worgul was actually never on Hernandez’s property and the two had never seen each other before. He lives with his mother in Rosemont.
Hernandez then rode away, leaving Worgul bleeding, and stopped at a neighbour’s house, asking for help. He told the neighbour he and Worgul had been hit by a truck. The neighbour noted Hernandez had a large amount of blood on his shoes, arms, legs and face, and appeared to be in shock.
Passing motorists called an ambulance, which took Worgul to the hospital.
The neighbour drove Hernandez to the hospital, where a doctor examined him. Police were called and Hernandez was arrested.
Worgul remained in hospital for a week. Her injuries included multiple lacerations to her hands, face, throat, neck, and right shoulder. She suffered puncture wounds to her upper neck, a fractured nose, extensive bruising, and a severe concussion. She is still recovering.
Based on those facts, the trial dealt mostly with Hernandez’s mental condition before, during and after the attack. Witnesses included two Nelson mental health outreach workers, Hernandez’s mother, and Dr. Christopher Robertson, who examined Hernandez after the incident and wrote a court-ordered psychiatric assessment report.
Hernandez attended some parts of the trial in person and some by video from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Port Coquitlam.
Court testimony revealed Hernandez has suffered from schizophrenia since 2003.
Canada’s criminal code states that a person is not criminally responsible for an act if a mental disorder prevented the person from appreciating the nature and quality of the act, and prevented the person from knowing it was wrong.
During the trial there was very little disagreement between defence lawyer Janet Connolly and prosecutor Phil Seagram: for the most part they agreed that Hernandez was not capable of understanding what he was doing, and they agreed he wasn’t able to understand it was wrong. The thrust of the trial was to examine his state of mind leading up to and during the attack, to help the judge come to a decision.
“The biggest challenge in a case like this,” Seagram told the Star, “is obtaining a full and complete picture of an individual’s mental state at a particular time. It has to do with the history of the person and the time leading up to that particular moment. So it is about getting as much accurate information about what was happening when.”
Judge Ronald Fabbro concluded Thursday that Hernandez was not criminally responsible based on the following evidence:
• Hernandez had been off his medication for schizophrenia since April.
• He had recently been smoking marijuana, which is known to cause paranoia in people with schizophrenia.
• In the weeks leading up to the incident, Hernandez’s mental condition had been deteriorating. He had been harbouring paranoid beliefs about his neighbours, thinking his food was being poisoned, and behaving bizarrely.
• A mental health outreach worker noted Hernandez appeared more pressured in his demeanour in the days leading up to the incident.
• Hernandez was certified under the Mental Health Act soon after being admitted to the hospital.
• The attack was unplanned.
• Hernandez has no previous history of violence.
“I conclude it is more likely than not that the accused was incapable of appreciating that his actions were wrong,” Judge Ron Fabbro said. “The preponderance of the evidence supports that conclusion.”
Fabbro ordered that Hernandez remain in the psychiatric hospital until a mental health review board holds a hearing that will determine whether he will have an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge, or detention in a hospital.
“The striking feature of this case,” said Seagram, “is that this was a very severe attack on a completely innocent and vulnerable person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case I think the appropriate verdict was found and the issue of his mental state was fully canvassed in court.”
According to Statistics Canada, there were 1,908 determinations of people held not criminally responsible in Canada between 2005 and 2012, or an average of about 280 per year. This amounts to less than one per cent of adult criminal convictions during those years. One in five of those cases involved a major assault.