When courts declare that a person who has been charged with murder is not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder, inevitably it seems, it brings out the worst in public opinion.
Just as it did yesterday, when we reported on our website that Dana Allison Craig, who had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was declared not criminally responsible in the death of his 63-year-old father Terry Craig, whose body was found in a room at the Brandon Motel 6 on April 10.
Court heard that Dana Craig was in the midst of an acute psychotic episode at the time of the killing. His father Terry had been strangled, but also stabbed in the neck 12 times, apparently after he’d died. It appears he was also struck in the face and scalp.
Both Dana and Terry are from New Brunswick, although Dana had been living in Alberta prior to the killing. Terry had gone to Alberta to help his mentally ill son and was driving Dana home to New Brunswick when he was killed.
As the Sun reported from court on Wednesday, Dana Craig pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, but the following “trial” was a technicality as Craig admitted that he’d killed his dad.
The judge ruled that Craig couldn’t appreciate what was happening and he was declared not criminally responsible.
Months earlier, Dana’s mother and Terry’s wife Donna Craig had told the Kings County Record in New Brunswick that they knew their son was having a mental breakdown, as it had happened before when he was a teenager. But when they reached out to a mental health organization in Edmonton, she said her family was turned away. She believes the tragedy never had to happen.
“I think there is a real problem with the mental health system when they fail to hear what the family is saying,” Donna said. “They dismissed everything we had said.”
She hoped the court system would have compassion for the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. And it was stated the neither she nor Dana’s immediate family held any malice toward him.
Unfortunately members of the public on Twitter and Facebook were somewhat less forgiving as they commented on the Brandon Sun story yesterday. Here’s a taste:
• “Apparently if you wanna kill someone just travel through Manitoba and do it here.”
• “Its amazing how easy ppl can get off with murder in Canada. I bet he will get less than ten years.”
• “Are you serious? His disorder did it? Yup great justice system we have, I wish I lived 100 years ago where these guys got shot dead.”
• “At what point will people actually be held responsible for their actions.”
This kind of public reaction is not new. When Vince Li was found not criminally responsible last year for the 2008 beheading of 22-year-old Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus near MacGregor, members of the public were similarly outraged.
Like Dana Craig, Li admitted responsibility for the attack, but a judge found him to be suffering from hallucinations and untreated schizophrenia at the time, which left him unable to appreciate or control his actions.
When Li was deemed fit to take escorted walks at his mental hospital as a necessary next stop of his ongoing treatment, a public uproar ensued that Li shouldn’t be allowed to leave the centre’s secure forensic unit until additional security precautions were in place. The most vocal said he shouldn’t be allowed to go out at all.
As we have said before on this page, we fully understand the need for the public to feel safe from those who have injured society in the way Craig and Li have done.
What happens to Craig, who remains in custody, will be up to the province’s Criminal Code Review Board. He may be released into the community if he poses no threat, or face an extended stay in a mental health facility if he poses a high risk to reoffend.
But as grisly as these homicides are, and no matter how much we may sympathize with the victims and their families, showing a lack of compassion for the mentally ill does no one in this society any good.
Sometimes, the courts do get it right.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 3, 2013