They watched as their son struggled to stay alive after being stabbed almost to death on a local soccer field.
They saw the blood, the gashes in his small body. They saw the boy suffer as he underwent major surgery. They were there to see him fight to get back on his feet and eventually recover enough to go back to school and play soccer again.
So, it’s understandable if the boy’s parents had a hard time hearing a judge say the man who plunged a knife into their son’s back, chest and neck six times didn’t know what he was doing.
But they accepted it Wednesday when it was decided at provincial court in St. John’s that Nicholas Robert Layman was not criminally responsible for his actions that fall day in 2014.
“Mr. Layman will now get the help he needs,” the victim’s mother told reporters after court proceedings, “and hopefully be there (at the hospital) a while before being found fit to be on the streets again.
“He’s a dangerous man and it’s scary for the community and the children in the community (if he is freed).”
Layman, 20, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon as a result of the stabbing Sept. 25, 2014, at a Topsail soccer field in Conception Bay South.
Layman ran onto the field with a knife, stabbed the 11-year-old boy several times and ran away. He was found a short time later up the road at his parents’ house and taken into custody.
Moments after the stabbing, parents, coaches and league administrators ran to help the boy, who was bleeding profusely on the ground. One man, with the help of a woman, who was a nurse, worked to stop the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.
With four stab wounds in his back, two in his chest and a gash across his neck, the boy required surgery, during which an artery from his leg was taken to replace severed arteries in his neck — a procedure rarely done on children.
“We’re told our child is a miracle,” said the mother, who can’t be identified due to a publication ban. “He should’ve never made it through, let alone be as healthy as he is. …
“The fact that he even made it off the field was unreal. He should’ve bled out on the field, so we had angels watching over us on that day, to say the least.”
She remembers her son giving her a thumbs up as he was being taken to the hospital.
“He said (months later), ‘Mom, I just wanted to let you know I was going to be OK.’”
His father got emotional speaking about the support they’ve received.
“Thank you. … I can’t put into words what I feel I owe (you all), from first responders to the people that cared for him,” he said, with tears welling in his eyes.
“You have no idea the support we’ve received.”
“From across the world,” his wife added. “It’s been amazing. Thanks to all of them.”
Their hope now is that Layman gets the help he needs so this won’t happen to another family.
Judge Colin Flynn concluded that, at the time of the incident, Layman had a “disease of mind” (was mentally ill) and was incapable of knowing his actions were wrong.
“There is no doubt the psychiatric history of Mr. Layman explains his actions,” Flynn said.
In making the decision, the judge went along with a joint submission from Mark Gruchy and Crown prosecutor Francis Knickle, who both supported the finding.
The determinations were based mainly on the testimony of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jasbir Gill, who has been assessing Layman since last year at the Waterford Hospital.
Gill said Layman had been battling psychosis for years and was hospitalized in the past. He experienced worsening symptoms of schizophrenia leading up to the stabbing.
Gill said that on the night of the stabbing, Layman — who was paranoid and carried a knife for protection — heard voices on the radio and TV, and they told him to stab the boy.
She said Layman also had disorganized thoughts — fleeing to his parents’ house, where he acted normally. He also got rid of the knife, but not his bloody clothes.
She determined Layman was “deprived of rational decision-making,” that day.
Gill said Layman has made considerable progress with medication and has insight into what he did.
Flynn said Layman’s actions after the stabbing seemed deliberate — running from the field, throwing the knife over the fence, jumping the fence, driving away in his car, disobeying traffic signs and then throwing away the knife.
“However, the evidence is juxtaposed against the very strong evidence of schizophrenia,” he said.
However, Flynn said the fact that it happened on an open field and Layman made no attempt to escape or hide his bloody clothes is evidence he was mentally ill.
The not-criminally-responsible finding means Layman will continue in detention at the Waterford Hospital. His case will eventually go before a review board, which will assess the case and determine whether he could be released and reintegrated into society with strict regulations.
Gruchy has told reporters it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. He explained that release restrictions would actually be more stringent than if Layman were to be found criminally responsible and go through the prison system.
Layman’s father, Scott Layman, and stepmother, Doreen Layman, said they tried several times to get Nicholas help, but that the system let them down. They hope now he can finally get the help he needs.
They also said they hope the boy’s family will be able to forgive Layman.
To that, the boy’s father replied, “I’ve seen no remorse. … I don’t think the young man is even able to acknowledge what he’s done.”
“Whether that’s part of his illness or not, I don’t know,” the boy’s mother added, “but I hope someday he does realize, at least before he’s out in the public again, the extent of what he’s done.”
But their main focus will be on their son, who, they say, has taught them a lot about perseverance.
“We’ll take a page from his book,” said his mother, referring to their son’s positive attitude.
“He’s back to soccer and doing (well) in school, so hopefully he’s got a bright future and hopefully this won’t plague him too long.”
“Where this will take him,” his father added, “time will tell.”