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No decision on B.C. school stabbing suspect's mental fitness for trial

Last Updated Jul 19, 2018 at 9:40 pm EDT

COQUITLAM, B.C. – A review board failed to reach a decision Thursday on whether a man accused of stabbing a 13-year-old girl to death inside her Abbotsford, B.C., high school is mentally fit to stand trial.

The British Columbia Review Board adjourned a hearing at a forensic psychiatric hospital for at least 30 days to get a second opinion from a psychiatrist on the 21-year-old man’s mental state.

Gabriel Klein is charged with second-degree murder in the death of the teen and aggravated assault for an attack on another Grade 9 girl in November 2016.

He shuffled into the hearing room wearing sandals, baggy shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt, his eyes glassy, hair messy and mouth hanging open.

“Where am I?” he asked.

After a board member explained that he was at a hearing to determine whether he was fit to stand trial, he murmured something inaudible.

At times during the hearing, he turned back to peer at the spectators in the room, and occasionally raised his arms into the air and slowly lowered them down to the table.

In April, a judge ruled the man was unfit to stand trial due to his schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and disordered thinking. The court ordered the review board to reassess his fitness in 90 days.

The review board heard Thursday there has been little change in Klein’s mental health since April.

His psychiatrist has tried five different antipsychotic medications, and while there’s been modest improvement, he still hears voices, has visual hallucinations and can’t process information, the board heard.

“He is quite significantly ill,” his psychiatrist, Dr. Marcel Hediger said. “It will take more time.”

Hediger said he hopes to try another medication but Klein is resistant because he is paranoid about the regular blood tests the drug would require.

Klein suffers from severe paranoia and many of the voices he hears are those he believes belong to members of the CIA who are surveilling him, his lawyer Martin Peters said.

One of the voices is named Lucy and has commanded him to kill or commit acts of violence before, leading to Klein’s threat to rape a fellow patient in the hospital, Peters said.

Peters added his client has seen a vision of Jesus Christ appearing before him wearing flowing white robes with a long white beard.

Hediger said he spoke with Klein just before the hearing and asked him whether he would feel safe. Klein replied he would because “Jesus told him everything would be fine,” Hediger said.

Klein has said he understands he’s killed someone and seriously injured another, said Hediger.

Despite giving apparently contrary evidence on the severity of Klein’s illness, Hediger’s recommendation was that Klein was fit to stand trial. The hospital also took this position.

However, his defence lawyer and the Crown counsel both agreed that Klein was unfit to stand trial.

“I do not take the position that the Crown wants him to be found unfit. It’s just what’s right,” said Crown counsel Lyle Hillaby.

Board members appeared confused by Hediger’s recommendation, and repeatedly asked him to clarify it.

After several questions, Hediger explained that Klein appeared fit to stand trial on several occasions when he was inside the hospital — in a quiet, safe environment.

But Klein has also suffered periods of intense distress lasting hours or days within the hospital, he said, and the intense stress of court was likely to trigger more episodes.

Ultimately, chairman Bernd Walter said he and his two fellow board members were “unhappy” with the evidence they had heard and would seek a second opinion before resuming the hearing.

The board imposed a publication ban on the identity of the deceased on Thursday.

Her parents attended the hearing and her father sat with his hands tightly clasped in his lap. Dave Teixeira, a spokesman for the family, said outside the hospital that it was an emotional day.

“I did prepare the family that in these situations you’re 10, 15 feet away from the accused, and there could be a visceral, emotional response,” he said. “They certainly felt that visceral, emotional response today.”

The core issue is whether Klein would be able to understand the proceedings if he did stand trial, said his lawyer, Peters, outside the hospital.

“Somebody’s on trial for murder, they should understand what’s going on.”

If his client did stand trial, Peters said he would ask a court to find the man not criminally responsible due to a mental illness.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.