Crown, defence recommend jury find Sawicki not criminally responsible

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As was anticipated, both legal teams recommended the jury find Christopher Vladislov Sawicki not criminally responsible for the killing of his neighbour almost two years ago.

The three days of testimony and evidence - including that of two forensic psychiatrists, friends and neighbours, as well as video footage of a police interview - presented in the second-degree murder trial in relation to the death of George Benoit of Piccadilly - wrapped up Thursday afternoon with closing remarks from Crown attorney Robin Fowler and defence lawyer Peter Ralph.

Corner Brook -

As was anticipated, both legal teams recommended the jury find Christopher Vladislov Sawicki not criminally responsible for the killing of his neighbour almost two years ago.

The three days of testimony and evidence - including that of two forensic psychiatrists, friends and neighbours, as well as video footage of a police interview - presented in the second-degree murder trial in relation to the death of George Benoit of Piccadilly - wrapped up Thursday afternoon with closing remarks from Crown attorney Robin Fowler and defence lawyer Peter Ralph.

A unique aspect of this trial, Fowler recommended the jury find Sawicki not criminally responsible in the stabbing death of Benoit, burning down his shed, or stealing his vehicle in the early morning hours of April 24, 2008. The Crown attorney told The Western Star it was the first time he ever made such advice in a courtroom.

Fowler said there are two absolutes in this matter. The first, he said, it is known Sawicki committed these crimes. The second, he said, Sawicki has a mental illness, diagnosed in 2004, and suffered from a manic phase of bipolar mood disorder during the time he committed the offences.

The prosecutor outlined evidence presented during the past three days. He said Sawicki's medical history, the confirmed diagnosis, the behaviour displayed on the video police interview, the testimony of Sawicki and Benoit's closest friends and neighbours and the validation of two forensic psychiatrists were all reasons the Crown feels the evidence is "overwhelming" that he is not criminally responsible.

Meanwhile, just before Fowler's brief closing statements, Ralph identified many of the same points as to why the jury should make that same decision.

However, he made a point of informing the 12 jurors their decision to find Sawicki not criminally responsible doesn't mean he will be set free. In fact, he would be institutionalized in a forensic mental health unit at Waterford Hospital, where his treatment will continue, Ralph said.

A board of mental health and justice professionals will determine for how long, and when Sawicki is suitable to be released into society.

Ralph said when a person is responsible for an act as serious as this one, it may lead to a lengthy period of supervision.

The lawyer referred to his client's behaviour at the time using phrases and terms such as disturbed, delusional and out of touch with reality.

He said the jurors have two considerations. The first, did he have the mental capacity to appreciate the nature or quality of his actions?

The second, was he capable of knowing his acts were wrong?

He said, if a juror answers no to the latter, no matter what they think about the first, they must find Sawicki not criminally responsible.

Meanwhile, in the morning session, Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist from Ontario, took the stand and provided further evidence Sawicki was not criminally responsible for the killing of Benoit.

The independent assessor, brought into the matter by the Crown, testified he met with Sawicki Nov. 13 and 14 of last year.

From that personal assessment, a review of hospital and police records and reports, statements from acquaintances of Sawicki's behaviour - Gojer said it is clear Sawicki suffered from bipolar mood disorder.

Gojer said Sawicki was not only unable to weigh the pros and cons of his actions, but he believed them to be right.

Gojer told Fowler it wouldn't be unusual for a person suffering from such a mental illness to appear rational for a brief period of time, such as when police were called to Sawicki's house.

The RCMP responded to a neighbour's complaint of his unusual behaviour - a call they had previously received at least four times - just hours before he committed the crimes, but they didn't take him into custody.

The psychiatrist said people suffering from a mental disorder are sometimes able to "pull it together" for a brief time, before returning to psychotic tendencies.

The trial will resume today with Justice Alan Seaborn addressing the jury in the morning.

Then, the 12-member jury will begin deliberations.

The jury must decide whether Sawicki is guilty or not criminally responsible on the charges of second-degree murder, arson and theft.

Organizations: Waterford Hospital, RCMP

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Western Star, Ontario

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