FREDERICTON — The Fredericton man who shot four people, including two police officers, while in the grip of delusions about demons and a pending apocalypse has been found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.
The jury delivered its verdict on the fourth day of deliberations following a nine-week trial that explored the dimensions of mental illness and the need for justice in a tragedy that devastated families and shook a community to its core.
Relatives of the victims hugged each other and sobbed in court after the verdict was announced on Friday. Matthew Raymond, who admitted to the killings, bowed his head and wiped away tears but said nothing.
Outside the court, Jackie McLean, widow of Fredericton police constable Robb Costello, who died in the shooting, said the verdict was not unexpected. But she said it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
“Obviously the mental health system failed the Raymond family in the first place, and now I feel as though the criminal justice system has failed us,” said McLean, who was wearing blue to honour the fallen police officers.
Nathan Gorham, lead defence lawyer for Raymond, said his client is “grief-stricken” by the enormity of his crime. But Gorham said the verdict was the right one considering that Raymond was “very, very ill and was incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of what he was doing.”
“Personally I would prefer if we could advance to a less adversarial system, once a person acknowledges they have done the crime and where people don’t feel there are winners or losers at the end,” Gorham said. “The fact is, Mr. Raymond will remain in custody unless the process decides at some point in time, which could be far off in the future, that he is no longer a threat to the public.”
Raymond, 50, will be held in a psychiatric hospital in northern New Brunswick. There will be a disposition hearing next month in court at which time family members can give victim impact statements. There will also be a hearing to have Raymond declared high risk.
The trial revived memories of a difficult time in the New Brunswick capital, a city known for its quiet, tree-lined streets and low crime rate.
The four victims left behind many grieving relatives, and the Aug. 10, 2018 shootings shocked the city. “Our hearts are broken,” Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien said at the time of the tragedy. “We grieve as one.”
The shooting is one of three mass killing events that have shaken the normally tranquil Maritimes. In 2014, a shooter in Moncton, N.B., killed three RCMP officers and injured two. Then in April of this year, a gunman in Nova Scotia killed 22 people and injured three — the deadliest such rampage in Canadian history.
In addition to Costello, 45, who had four children, the other Fredericton police constable who died was Sara Burns, 43, a wife with three children. They were the first officers to arrive at the scene of the early morning shooting and were shot as they rushed to help two people lying on the ground.
The two on the ground likely were dead when the officers arrived. Bobbie Lee Wright, 32, whose nickname was Bubbles, and Donnie Robichaud, 42, were shot as they packed their car in the parking lot of the apartment complex. A relative said they were going to go zip-lining after work. The two had just recently started dating.
Autopsies of the victims presented at trial show all four victims were shot at least once in the head. Some were shot multiple times in the body as well as in the head.
Police officers testified that the shots came from the window of Raymond’s third-floor apartment that was part of the four-building housing complex. They described how Raymond was shot in the abdomen by police before officers stormed the apartment and arrested him.
Raymond has fully recovered from the injury.
Police said they seized a semi-automatic SKS rifle, a shotgun, about 2,000 of rounds of ammunition and a knife from Raymond’s apartment. They also found 22 spent casings and seven spent shotgun shells in two different rooms.
There was never any doubt that Raymond was the shooter. The key question for the jury revolved around his mental disorder and whether it rendered him not criminally responsible.
During the trial, evidence taken from Raymond’s computer and other material found in his apartment revealed his deepening involvement with conspiracy theories, hoaxes, religious beliefs about end times and numerology. From 2017 until the shooting in 2018, his mental deterioration was marked by bizarre beliefs about demons masquerading as political leaders and celebrities, about the earth being flat and about a coming apocalypse.
Two psychiatrists who testified told the jury that Raymond had a mental disorder — one said it was schizophrenia and the other said it was a delusional disorder.
“Matthew Raymond was suffering from a disease of the mind at the time he committed these acts,” Justice Larry Landry said in his charge to the jury.
The defence argued the mental disorder rendered Raymond incapable of understanding the nature of his actions. But Crown prosecutors said the delusions he was suffering from waxed and waned and were not intense enough to prevent him from understanding that he was shooting humans, and that it was wrong.
Fredericton police Chief Roger Brown said Friday his thoughts were with the families of the victims and of the accused, as well as with the entire police force.
“I thank the jury for their time and deliberations and am fully aware that no one has emerged from this situation unscarred,” he said in a news release. “It is important that we respect the decision that has been passed down as we move forward.”
The province said the trial’s jury was the first to be selected in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The trial was held in a downtown convention centre with the seats widely spaced. Only media and family members of the victims were allowed to watch the proceedings.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov, 20, 2020.
Chris Morris, The Canadian Press