Veitch's mother hopes for healing and forgiveness as he is declared not criminally responsible for killing her partner, David Collins
In delivering her decision in the case of Graham Veitch Thursday morning, Justice Sandra Chaytor was clear: a verdict of not criminally responsible is not a "get out of jail free" card.
Veitch did indeed kill David Collins, his mother's partner, in a brutal attack at the family's home in December 2016, Chaytor ruled. Veitch did not, however, have the ability at that time to understand that his actions were morally wrong, due to the schizophrenic delusions from which he was suffering, Chaytor ruled.
As a result, Chaytor declared Veitch not criminally responsible for Collins' death, ordering him to be transferred from Her Majesty's Penitentiary to the Waterford Hospital, where he will remain in treatment until a review panel decides otherwise.
"The tragedy of Mr. Collins' death is evident," the judge said. "As tragic as his death is, however, this is a clear case of a young man who suffers from a mental disorder. The evidence overwhelmingly supported that at the time of Mr. Collins' death, Mr. Veitch's mental disorder was such that he was not capable of knowing that his conduct was morally wrong.
"In such situations, it is not appropriate for Mr. Veitch to be incarcerated for purposes of punishment. It is appropriate to separate him from society, however, it must be with an emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation."
Chaytor began delivering her verdict by compiling the facts of Veitch's case into a tragic narrative. The evening of Dec. 18, 2016 began as an ordinary evening for Collins, his partner, Joan Veitch, and her son, Graham, then 18 years old. Like many other families, they sat together in the kitchen of their home and ate supper, Chaytor said. By the end of that ordinary and routine evening, "horrifically extraordinary events" had transpired.
Collins, 55, was dead and Graham Veitch was facing five criminal charges: second-degree murder, assault with a weapon against his mother, assault with a weapon against a police officer, flight from police, and theft of Collins' vehicle.
Shortly after supper, Veitch had come barreling downstairs to the living room with a hammer, striking Collins multiple times in the head. While his mother and brother called 911 and attended to Collins, Veitch went on the run in Collins' vehicle, speaking to an RNC negotiator periodically. He eventually returned home, where he was arrested.
Prosecutors Jennifer Colford and Shawn Patten and defence lawyers Mark Gruchy and Jason Edwards agreed Veitch, now 21, should be found not criminally responsible for his crimes. He had been suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia at the time of Collins' death, the lawyers said, and had been in a state of psychosis, believing the delusion that Collins was a danger to him and his mother. Veitch admitted he had attacked Collins, saying he had done it to protect himself and his family.
"There is no evidence of any confrontation or animosity between Mr. Veitch and Mr. Collins preceding this violent episode," Chaytor noted, adding she believed statements Veitch's mother had given to police, saying Collins had been respectful and good to their family. "I accept that this was the delusion of an ill mind."
Chaytor reviewed the evidence of two forensic psychiatrists who testified at trial, one summoned by the Crown, the other by the defence.
After each assessing Veitch and examining volumes of evidence in the case - including the police file; statements given by a number of Veitch's loved ones, friends and a former employer; Veitch's medical and school records; video footage of Veitch's behaviour in custody; and other information, both doctors testified they believe Veitch suffers from a textbook case of schizophrenia and was in a severely psychotic state at the time he killed Collins.
The psychosis continued for some time after his arrest, the court heard, and Veitch's condition started to improve after he began treatment with anti-psychotic medication.
"We still have a long way to go in our society in understanding mental illness," Chaytor said. "It is difficult for lay-people to understand and fully accept that a person who commits a horrifically violent crime was propelled by illness. How is it that Graham Veitch could feel threatened by David Collins, who by all accounts was good to his family? How is it that Mr. Veitch could not choose more rational options to address his perceived situation? … In this case, the delusional system imposed its own morality on Mr. Veitch and because of the delusion he felt compelled to act to protect his family."
Loved ones of both Veitch and Collins were in the courtroom to hear Chaytor's verdict.
The parents of Anne Norris — a St. John's woman who was declared not criminally responsible last year for the 2016 murder of Marcel Reardon, in a case with similar facts to that of Veitch — were also in court, to lend their support.
Joan Veitch sat in the front row of the gallery as the judge agreed to lift a court order banning her and Graham from contacting each other. The order had been imposed when he was arrested more than two years ago.
After the verdict, Joan Veitch provided reporters with a statement delivered by her lawyer, Lynn Moore.
"I am deeply and severely sorry for all the anguish you have endured because of Graham's illness and my failure to recognize the extent of his illness before it was too late," Veitch wrote, addressing Collins' daughter, other family members and friends. "In time, my hope is for forgiveness and healing for all of us affected by Dave's death. I know Dave's family want justice. I, too, want justice, but justice is not punishment. Graham had the terrible misfortune of being afflicted with schizophrenia. I have to believe that with the right treatment regime, he will be able to live a somewhat normal life, be a positive contributor to society and find some peace and happiness in his life."
Collins, a native of Placentia, was a well-known and accomplished pharmacist, described by those close to him as funny, gentle and kind.