The fate of a man charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a student inside a B.C. high school now rests with a judge who is being urged by a defence lawyer to find his client guilty of manslaughter.
Martin Peters said in closing arguments Wednesday that Gabriel Klein did not have the intent to kill a 13-year-old girl on Nov. 1, 2016, when he walked into the rotunda of Abbotsford Secondary School.
Letisha Reimer died after being stabbed 14 times and her friend, who was also stabbed, suffered serious injuries, for which Klein has been charged with aggravated assault.
Peters said the Crown has proven its case in the assault against the girl whose name is under a publication ban, and Klein should be found guilty.
However, he told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court that there is reasonable doubt related to the murder charge because his client exhibited odd behaviour and mental distress beforehand, suggesting he did not intentionally plan to kill anyone but only bring about his own death.
Surveillance videos seen in court showed Klein stealing alcohol from a liquor store and a hunting knife from a sporting goods store hours before the attack, and Peters said his client committed the thefts because he wanted to get drunk and use the weapon to stab a police officer in hopes of triggering a suicide-by-cop scenario.
Crown attorney Rob Macgowan said in his closing argument this week that Klein faked symptoms of a mental disorder after his arrest in order to be found not criminally responsible of the crimes and even told a psychiatrist who assessed him at a hospital that his lawyer would use that as a defence.
Peters said Wednesday that his client may simply have been parroting what he heard from other inmates in a cell block at the courthouse after they heard about his involvement in the high-profile case.
“That doesn’t suggest manipulation or planning or scheming to obtain a psychiatric disorder,” he told Holmes, who has heard the trial without jury and is expected to announce her ruling on Feb. 21.
Peters noted that a member of an emergency-room security team testified in October that Klein was not responding to her questions and made odd facial expressions as she tried to talk to him two days before the attacks, when he asked her to call his mother in Edmonton.
He said that while the security-team employee had nothing to gain from her testimony, a social worker from the ER who testified Klein showed no signs of psychological distress that day may have been concerned about the hospital’s liability because it let a “killer go out into the night” instead of treating him.
Peters said his client’s mental capacity was impaired slightly by alcohol on the day of the stabbings because 2.8 ounces of rum were missing from a bottle he’d stolen and his blood-alcohol level suggested he’d consumed the alcohol.
He said Klein was experiencing “mental dysfunction” when he told hospital staff after the attacks that he thought Reimer was a “shape-shifting witch” when he approached the girls sitting on chairs and the other girl was a “monster with maggots coming out of her back.”
Macgowan said during his closing arguments this week that both the Crown and the defence had agreed that Klein would either be found guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, though he said the greater charge would suit the circumstances because the accused was not experiencing a mental disorder at the time of the attacks.
The court earlier heard Klein’s defence would be not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder but Peters did not call any evidence on that this week.
He said Wednesday that Klein was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a forensic psychiatric hospital in June 2017 and has been receiving treatment.
“Schizophrenia is variable in its onset,” he said. “It’s not like turning on a light switch, and it comes in bits and pieces.”
The Canadian Press