Dr. Nizar Ladha says Veitch was suffering from psychosis when he murdered David Collins
Graham Veitch was suffering from psychosis due to schizophrenia and didn't understand the consequences of his actions at the time he murdered his mother's partner, court heard Friday.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Nizar Ladha testified at Veitch’s second-degree murder trial in St. John’s. Ladha assessed Veitch while he was in custody in December 2017, a year after the murder.
Ladha told the court he had also reviewed statements provided to police by Veitch’s family members, friends, and an employer; the agreed statement of facts in the case; Veitch’s school records; and a video of his interview with police the night of his arrest.
Veitch, 21, has acknowledged killing 55-year-old David Collins by striking him repeatedly in the head with a hammer at the family’s home in Logy Bay on Dec. 18, 2016.
Collins, a well-known and accomplished local pharmacist, died in hospital hours later.
“What are your findings in terms of Mr. Graham Veitch’s criminal responsibility in this matter?” asked defence lawyer Mark Gruchy, who is representing Veitch with lawyer Jason Edwards.
“Graham Veitch suffers from schizophrenia,” Ladha replied, adding Veitch had displayed all the classic symptoms of the illness. “Graham had delusions about David Collins, the deceased. He believed that David was going to kill him. He believed his mother and brother were not safe.
“From a psychiatric point of view, Graham Veitch did not appreciate the nature and consequences of his actions.”
Gruchy and Edwards are arguing Veitch should be found not criminally responsible for Collins’ death by way of mental illness.
The agreed statement of facts in the case say shortly after supper Veitch had come barreling downstairs to the living room with a hammer, striking Collins multiple times in the head and face. While his mother and brother called 911 and attended to Collins, Veitch went on the run in Collins' vehicle, speaking to an RNC negotiator periodically. He eventually returned home, where he was arrested.
In her interview with police, Veitch's mother said her son had previously indicated he felt threatened by Collins, but she felt his beliefs were completely unfounded. She described her partner as "very passive.”
Ladha noted Veitch was still suffering from delusions at the time of his assessment, telling the doctor he believed people were sending him messages and were out to kill him. He believed Collins was threatening him, Ladha said.
Ladha said Veitch had told him during the assessment, “It’s hard to explain. Kind of like death threats, all the time. He walks around with his hands in his pockets, haunting me. He didn’t tell me he was going to kill me, but I felt it.”
At one point, Veitch had described Collins as a very nice guy, the doctor told the court.
“On one side he’s saying David is caring and loving and good to his mother. At the same time, he’s labouring under this delusion about him,” Ladha said.
Ladha said this type of deluded thinking is typical for those with schizophrenia, and it wasn’t the only thing he noticed about Veitch that was consistent with the mental illness. Ladha said many of Veitch’s characteristics, actions and experiences in his recent history were typical in cases of schizophrenia.
He described Veitch as being rigid, making no eye contact, speaking monotonously and having a flat affect during the interview. He noted police had reported Veitch had appeared emotionless and zombie-like during his arrest, not moving when officers asked him to put his hands on his head. Ladha said Veitch appeared in a nearly catatonic state in parts of the video taken at RNC headquarters after he was arrested.
“What does this say, in your view, about his mental state at the time?” Gruchy asked Ladha.
“He probably was delusional at the time,” Ladha replied. “He was probably suffering from psychosis at that time.”
The statement of facts indicates Veitch had been suffering from depression and paranoia, and had been hearing voices, having other hallucinations and exhibiting bizarre behaviour in the months leading up to Collins' murder, according to his family members, an ex-girlfriend, a friend and former employers. This behaviour continued in the Waterford Hospital after his arrest. Veitch has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia by three different psychiatrists, including Dr. David Craig at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.
Ladha told the court he believes, based on his review of the documents in the case, that the illness began presenting in Veitch in the spring of 2016.
Crown prosecutors Shawn Patten and Jennifer Colford are not expected to contest Veitch’s not criminally responsible argument, but will cross-examine Ladha and present their own psychiatric expert when the trial resumes in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court next week.