Nearly seven years after the death of Derek Descoteau in Chemainus, the man who previously pleaded guilty to killing him has been found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.
The determination on Colin John was announced by Justice Lisa Warren in BC Supreme Court Tuesday in Duncan after a statement that took 2 1/2 hours to read, explaining all aspects of the decision.
There was an angry response from the crowd in the courtroom at the end. Many of those gathered to hear the decision immediately stormed out when the decision became known.
“We’re really upset,” said Descoteau’s mother Brenda Smith. “This is not the outcome we wanted. Today, we wanted justice.”
“I think the judge summarized it at the end of her decision,” said Scott Sheets, the lead of John’s defence team. “It was a difficult decision and for the family to watch.”
Warren was brought to tears herself in acknowledging Janelle Guyatt, who was also stabbed by John but survived the attack, along with friends and Descoteau family members who were in the courtroom have endured difficult proceedings over the years.
Her decision, she said, is a legal one and “I am very sorry for your loss.”
Descoteau and Guyatt family members feared all along this might be the outcome. “You can prepare all you want for it, but when it happens it’s like a freight train,” said Kristina Tkachuk, Descoteau’s aunt.
The Descoteaus and Guyatts issued a prepared statement in the eventuality John would be found not criminally responsible. It was a bitter pill for them to swallow.
“This is not closure for our families,” read the statement. “It’s just the beginning of Round Two. We have held steadfast for seven long years and we will continue for another seven years if we have to to get the closure we all need.”
Smith said they will be approaching Crown Counsel next week to see about a new trial.
“We’re not going to give up,” vowed Alivia Pike, a friend of Descoteau.
The murder in May of 2016 shocked Chemainus.
Descoteau was at his father’s place along with girlfriend Guyatt when John came to the basement suite entrance and started stabbing. He had initially attempted to shoot Descoteau, but the gun didn’t discharge and he used a knife instead.
“Mr. John admits he killed Mr. Descoteau and that he intended to do so,” noted Warren.
Descoteau, 20 at the time, eventually collapsed in the front yard and later died of his injuries. Guyatt endured numerous stab wounds that required several surgeries over the years.
John’s mental state in the time leading up to the attack, during the attack and since then have been the central issue in the lengthy process of psychiatric assessments. Warren relied heavily on the testimonies of Dr. Andrew Kolchak and Dr. Santoch Rai in making her determinations.
“Mr. John’s response was irrational,” she concluded. “His claim that he didn’t think what he did is wrong is also irrational.
“No reality-based motive arises out of the evidence,” she added.
In conclusion, Warren noted the mental disorder “rendered him incapable of knowing that he was doing was wrong.”
John has spent time at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre and primarily at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam over the years. He will remain at FPH, Warren pointed out, for an indeterminate time.
John’s case before the courts has bogged down many times to determine mental fitness and then was extended during the early COVID period.
On Nov. 30, 2021, he decided to plead guilty in a Victoria courtroom to the second degree murder of Descoteau and a reduced charge of aggravated assault from attempted murder against Guyatt.
“I then ordered a pre-sentence report with a psychiatric component,” explained Warren.
The defence made an application that John was suffering from a mental disorder in May of last year and a hearing commenced in October that went into the early part of 2023 before Warren made her final findings public Tuesday.
The Descoteau and Guyatt families contend “statements and interviews of witnesses, the killer’s family, as well as members of the community he lived in, were not as expansive as they should have been to get the true understanding of Colin John’s desire to kill.”
The families feel the five-minute stabbing spree that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and cost the victims personally should create outrage among the public.
“How many more families have to go through this pain before we the people demand the laws change?” they challenged.