He needs help, not jail: mother

Twenty-year-old with numerous mental disorders gets 3 1/2-year prison term

Published on August 4, 2012
Justin Baxter Collins is led out of provincial court in St. John’s Friday after he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for starting two fires and trying to start two more in December of last year. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

He’s a 20-year-old who has the mental capacity of an eight-year-old.

His IQ is 67 — well below average — and he’s been diagnosed with a long list of mental disorders.

He’s been in and out of foster homes and group homes most of his life and has had his share of trouble with the law.

On Dec. 30, 2011, not long after he moved back home with his mother, Justin Baxter Collins snuck out and started two fires and tried to start two others.

On Friday, he was sentenced to

3 1/2 years in jail.

With 1.5 times credit given for the 218 days he’s spent in custody, it leaves two years and seven months left of his term.

Justin pleaded guilty to two counts of arson, two counts of attempted arson and one count of breaching probation.

After he was escorted out of court, his mother, Suzanne Collins, stood outside the courtroom sobbing.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said to reporters, wiping tears from her eyes with a tissue.

“He doesn’t belong in the (prison) system. He needs help.

“The (health) system failed him for years and years.”

She first noticed there was something wrong when her son was just 10 months old.

By age 2, her son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Shortly afterwards, he was placed in foster care and bounced from group home to group home for the next decade.

As a teenager, he was diagnosed with numerous other mental disorders, including oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, reactive attachment disorder and broad spectrum tourette syndrome, which causes vocal outbursts and facial tics.

“He doesn’t trust anyone because of the life he’s led,” his mother said.

Although he hasn’t always lived with her, Suzanne says she’s always been a part of her son’s life.

While she was glad to have him live with her again, things didn’t go well. She said it was because he no longer had the support that had been given to him as a youth, and had been promised by Eastern Health as an adult.

“He came to live with me and I guess he was just scared,” she said.

“I was trying to give him a bit of independence, but not for too long, because he always had two (home care workers) with him.”

It was because he didn’t have the supervision he needed that he broke the law, she said.

“We were promised everything when he came home to live with me again and we got nothing,” she said.

“Because of these things not being in place, he had more time to go off on his own and do the things he shouldn’t have been doing.”

On Dec. 30, 2011, Justin started a fire at 257 Canada Dr., not far from where he lived. He bought gas, poured it on the house and lit it with a wad of paper towels. The blaze damaged the siding.

He also set fire to a basement door at a house at 174 Frecker Dr. The blaze was minor and caused minimal damage to the siding.

Justin then went to New Moon Restaurant on Topsail Road, where he made a Molotov cocktail using a ketchup bottle and tried to ignite the gas tank behind the business.

He also tried to catch a shed on fire at 85 Bonavista St.

Suzanne said Justin returned home that day and told her what he did at the Canada Drive house.

She convinced him to call police and turn himself in, “because if he didn’t, I would’ve.”

When officers showed up, he confessed to the other three incidents, which surprised his mother.

She admits what he did was wrong, but said her son doesn’t belong in jail.

“I’m not excusing what he did or trying to minimize it, but I don’t think that he should have been given the sentence he was given,” she said.

With his mental issues, she thinks the priority should be to get her son psychiatric help.

“Anyone who spends 10 minutes with him can see he’s not fit (to stand trial),” she said. “He is mentally challenged and the system failed him miserably. …

“It is ridiculous. … He doesn’t need to be thrown in jail, and taken out of the province at that. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

In imposing a 3 1/2-year prison term, Judge Mike Madden went along with an agreed recommendation from Crown prosecutor Jason House and defence lawyer Jennifer Curran.

House pointed to the seriousness of arson, noting the erratic nature of fire puts people’s lives at risk. The randomness of the locations was also unsettling, he added.

House said there was also a degree of planning that went into the arsons, as Justin purchased gas and made a Molotov cocktail.

Curran pointed to the difficulties Justin has had in his life, his mental challenges, his young age and the remorse he’s shown.

She said she hopes a federal sentence will help him with rehabilitation.

Twitter: @TelyCourt