Defence says accused in caseworker death needs assessment

CALGARY — A lawyer for an 18-year-old charged with killing his case worker at an assisted-living home says he doubts the young man is fit to stand trial.

Brandon Newman remains in custody charged with second-degree murder in the death of Deborah Onwu, who was stabbed at the home in southwest Calgary on Oct. 25.

The 18-year-old appeared in court Friday via a video link and said little.

Defence lawyer Allan Fay said he’s doubtful his client would be capable of properly instructing a lawyer for his defence.

“I’ve met with him several times,” Fay said outside court. “He strikes me as an extremely child-like individual.”

Fay asked to have the case put over until Monday, when Newman is to receive an initial assessment from a psychiatrist. That could result in Newman being sent to the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatric Centre.

“If that’s the case, he’ll go there for about 30 days for an assessment. They’ll come back and at that time we’ll determine if we can proceed,” Fay said.

Police have said it’s believed there was a verbal and physical confrontation between Newman and Onwu, and she was stabbed.

The union that represented Onwu is calling for higher safety standards and staffing levels to protect other workers.

Lou Arab, a spokesman with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said in a statement that Newman has “complex health needs and a violent history” and required two-on-one care.

Another worker was at the home the night Onwu was killed, he said, but that worker was on a different floor dealing with another client.

“(Onwu) was working alone and she should not have been,” said Arab.

Court records show Newman was charged with assault in August. He was to appear in court on that matter later this month.

Wood’s Homes, which operates mental-health facilities and programs for children and families throughout Alberta, said in a statement Friday that it can’t comment on details about its clients.

“Wood’s Homes takes its responsibility in promoting a safe workplace very seriously. We are working with our staff to address the issues stemming from this very sad incident.”

It said it is conducting its own investigation and co-operating with police and the province’s Occupational Health and Safety unit.

About 10 of Onwu’s friends, some care workers, gathered at court Friday wearing white T-shirts with Onwu’s picture on it and “Justice for Debbie” written on the back.

“We believe that her death could have been prevented if the safety and the security measures were put in place,” said Rebecca Opoku-Ameyaw.

“This wouldn’t happen and we wouldn’t be standing here today.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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