WATCH ABOVE: Matthew de Grood, the man responsible for the deaths of five students at a 2014 house party, faced a review board to begin his reintegration into society Thursday. Nancy Hixt has the details.
Matthew de Grood, the man responsible for Calgary’s worst mass killing, is taking antidepressant and antipsychotic medication for schizophrenia, the Alberta Review Board heard Thursday. Despite the fact doctors say he’s doing well, the victims’ family members told court they want him institutionalized for the rest of his life — and were shocked to hear his treatment team is asking for him to be given privileges in an unfenced area.
De Grood’s forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Sergio Santana, said his schizophrenia is currently in “full remission” because he’s on medication and living in a controlled environment at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre (SAFPC).
He explained remission means there are no symptoms, but the illness is still there.
“Schizophrenia cannot be cured,” Santana said. “It can be managed.”
De Grood was declared not criminally responsible (NCR) 10 months ago for the stabbing deaths of five young people at a house party April 15, 2014.
Zackariah Rathwell, 21, Jordan Segura, 22, Josh Hunter, 23, Kaiti Perras, 23, and Lawrence Hong, 27 all died. The board heard de Grood has been talking to his treatment team about the deaths.
READ MORE: Remembering the Brentwood 5
Santana said he’s very engaged and proactive in his treatment and has shown no signs of worrisome behaviour.
“He’s always going to be known for what he’s done,” Santana said. “And this is going to have a significant impact on his life.”
WATCH: Forensic psychologist Dr. Patrick Baillie joins Global Calgary to discuss Matthew De Grood’s annual review.
Side effects of his medication include tremors and twitching, which means he may need medication adjustments in future.
De Grood is currently allowed to go outside to a grassy courtyard at SAFPC.
Santana recommends de Grood be allowed to walk around the hospital grounds, first escorted by two staff members, then one, then by himself. The doctor suggested such baby steps to see how he reacts to increased stress.
Watch below: Gregg Perras says victims’ families were not informed that there were no fences where Matthew de Grood may be able to go if the Alberta Review Board grants him privileges.
But the victims’ families said they vehemently disagree with the treatment team’s request for such privileges—emphasizing there are no fences outside the hospital.
“The Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatric Centre is located within Calgary city limits and is within walking distance to a number of communities and shopping malls,” Kaiti’s father Gregg Perras said outside the hearing. “The idea that a person responsible for killing five people is allowed to walk the unfenced grounds of this facility without any security personnel is beyond belief.
“Going forward, we see no reason for de Grood to ever be conditionally released from a secure facility to ensure ours and the greater public’s need for safety.”
De Grood currently has supervised access to a computer, including Internet and email, but he is not allowed to use social media, according to Santana.
Board members were told he is supervised but his emails are not read, though some Internet searches have been noted about “people who committed homicides and were found NCR.”
“It wasn’t a concern because he was trying to find out the legal process they went through,” Santana said. “Given the circumstances, it made sense he was curious.”
But Perras suggested there’s a need for the emails to be read.
“He could email someone on the outside, say, ‘I’m going to be outside at 3 o’clock today, come and help me get out of here,’” he said. “It seems like a process issue here where somehow you have to monitor what he’s emailing to people if he’s going to have outside access to an unfenced area. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Santana said there would be significant risk should de Grood end up back in a psychotic state and noted the risk of a relapse is possible if he doesn’t take his medications.
The doctor explained if he became psychotic, de Grood would be delusional and become dangerous.
De Grood currently takes his medication orally, but in the future, doctors plan to try injectables.
Every year, de Grood’s status is reviewed by an Alberta provincial court judge, two psychiatrists and community members.
The board has three options: they can order de Grood to continue treatment in a secure facility, grant him a conditional discharge or give him an absolute discharge.
‘Nightmare’ continues at hearing: victims’ families
Twenty victim impact statements were read to court by family members of the victims.
“The nightmare is a real-life horror,” Perras told the court.
“These reviews derail healing.”
Watch below: Gregg Perras, father of Kaiti Perras, issues a statement on behalf of the families of the victims after the hearing for Matthew de Grood.
Many spoke of their lost loved ones, but also expressed frustration at the system and having to relive their pain during the annual review process.
De Grood looked at Jordan’s mother, Patty Segura, as she read her statement, after she’d said he didn’t look up at her during the first hearing.
“The justice system has made me feel completely invisible,” she said.
“I don’t think anyone is really listening.”
Lawrence’s mother Marlene Hong said she felt guilt she wasn’t there when her son was killed.
“We were not able to protect our Lawrence.”
Zackariah’s mother Ronda-Lee Rathwell explained she was starting to enjoy memories of her son until she was notified of the review hearing.
“Almost as if a scab had formed over the pain…and then this review came, and that scab was torn off,” she said.
All of the families of the victims want de Grood kept in a secure facility indefinitely.
“Every new day brings reminders of the enormity of our loss,” Josh’s father Barclay Hunter said.
Lawyer Allan Fay read a statement written by de Grood following the victim impact statements.
“It pains me greatly to hear what the victim’s families are going through,” de Grood said through Fay. “I am aware that I did something very wrong, and I hope they can understand I am very sorry.
“I promise to do everything in my power not to relapse.”
Watch below: Ronda-Lee Rathwell, Zackariah Rathwell’s mother, doesn’t doubt Matthew de Grood feels horrible, but said he should voluntarily commit himself and stay hospitalized forever.
Though Perras declined to comment on the apology, Rathwell said she has no doubts he feels horrible about what he’s done.
“If he truly is sorry and never wants it to happen again, then he should voluntarily commit himself to be institutionalized or to stay hospitalized forever,” she said. “Because he cannot tell the difference between the voices in his head and reality. And when he doesn’t, he kills people – quickly and efficiently.”
How NCR cases are treated in Canada
A high-risk NCR designation could make freedom more difficult and mean fewer hearings, but the Crown would have to seek that status. To date, that hasn’t happened — leaving full control in the hands of the Alberta Review Board.
“To us, the horrific, evil and extreme nature of de Grood’s crime speaks for itself and it is impossible for any of us to reconcile that the circumstances of this case would not automatically warrant a high-risk designation,” Perras said.
“The intent of the high risk NCR law is to deal with the most dangerous and violent one per cent and mass murder of five innocent individuals certainly meets this test.”
In Canada, the system deals with NCR cases as medical issues, not criminal.
“It’s not up to the patient to prove he isn’t a risk — rather, it’s up to the board to find evidence that he is a risk,” forensic psychologist Dr. Patrick Baillie previously told Global News. “And if they don’t find any risk, then they’re compelled to provide an absolute discharge.”
Fay previously described de Grood as a model patient.
“The only way we’re going to know if he’s a risk is if he’s put in situations where there are stressors placed on him,” Fay said. “But if we can do that in a supervised way, initially, and see how he reacts, then go from there.”
“I think we’ve reached the point where he should receive more privileges so he can continue to demonstrate he’s not a risk,” he said, adding he would like to see de Grood gradually reintegrated into society.
But Perras called on the public to send letters to Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley if they share the victims’ families’ concern in the case.
“After three years of legal wrangling, we are still being told that the pursuit of a high-risk designation for de Grood is being evaluated and it has also been suggested the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service will likely not be pursuing a high-risk designation for de Grood,” he said. “We do not understand this position and we will be aggressively pursuing detailed feedback from the Crown’s office.”
Perras said the families have an “extreme lack of confidence” in the NCR process.
“There’s no process in place to ensure he doesn’t run away. It’s unfathomable. But this is the difference between the penal system and the mental health system.”
The hearing had been scheduled to last two days but ended Thursday afternoon. The board is set to release its decision on the case at a later date.
– With files from Erika Tucker, Global News