A man found not criminally responsible for killing his neighbour was given an absolute discharge last month.
And while the Crown tried to appeal that decision in the case of Christopher Vladislov Sawicki, its attempts were shot down last week by the province’s top judge, who denied the application for more time to file it.
Chief Justice Derek Green concluded that not only was the Crown’s request to appeal too late, but the appeal would have been pointless anyway, as it would not have been successful.
“If a proposed appeal has no merit, there is generally no point in granting an extension of time to appeal …,” Green said in his written decision, released to the public Tuesday. “The Crown cannot identify any point that was capable of being argued with any realistic chance of success.”
In 2008, Sawicki was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, arson causing property damage and theft of a vehicle following an incident in Piccadilly on the island’s west coast.
In the early morning hours of April 24, 2008, Sawicki went to George Benoit’s house next door, stabbed him at least 30 times, burned down his shed and stole his vehicle.
Sawicki didn’t deny he did it.
Everything presented to the court during his trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court in Corner Brook in January 2010, by both the Crown and the defence, pointed to Sawicki having suffered from bipolar mood disorder, including the opinions he had suffered a manic episode of illness the morning he committed the crimes.
Dr. Nazir Ladha and Dr. Julian Gojer both testified the episode Sawicki suffered rendered him incapable of appreciating that his actions were wrong.
In fact, both testified they thought he believed he was doing the right thing. Ladha, in his testimony, said Sawicki didn’t even have the capacity to appreciate the nature of his actions.
On Day 4 of the trial, Justice Alan Seaborn also told the jurors he was satisfied it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt Sawicki was not criminally responsible with respect to each of the three charges.
It took the jury a little more than an hour to return with the same conclusion.
Sawicki was returned to a forensic mental health unit at the Waterford Hospital, where he underwent treatment for his bipolar mood disorder.
On April 5 of this year, a review board — comprised of mental heath, social work, and justice professionals — decided Sawicki, now 53, was ready to return to society and gave him an absolute discharge.
In its conclusion, the board stated, “The board accepts the evidence of Dr. Ladha that since that time (of his remand in custody in 2008), his condition has remained stable and the accused has been co-operative in keeping it under control. He presently has no symptoms of his disorder …
“The board is also satisfied that at this point in time, the accused is not a significant threat to safety to the public.”
The Crown had 15 days to appeal the board’s decision — 15 days less than the customary period for an appeal.
When Crown prosecutor Robin Fowler didn’t file the appeal in time — citing a misunderstanding of the allowable time to file and the need for more time to review the board’s decision — he applied for an extension.
The Crown had concerns with the board’s reasoning regarding Sawicki’s risk to the public.
It believed the board had “erred in law” by limiting its application of “significant risk” to the present time instead of considering Sawicki’s risk in the future. The Crown said there is a chance Sawicki may discontinue taking his medication and, therefore, may need a further period of supervision.
However, Green said the word “risk” naturally implies the possibility of events occurring in the future.
“Qualifying the word by talking of ‘future’ risk adds nothing …,” Green said.
“In fact, in this case, it is difficult, from the evidence presented to the review board, to see how the board could have decided otherwise than it did.”
Green concluded, “I am not, therefore, able to discern, even recognizing that the threshold is a very low one, any potential merit in this appeal.”
—With files from The Western Star