Opinion

No Second Chance for Child Killers Like Schoenborn

BC Supreme Court ruling that he’s not a ‘high risk accused’ puts public safety at risk.

By Bill Tieleman 5 Sep 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” — Clarence Darrow, U.S. lawyer, 1857-1938.

How could anyone who brutally murders his own three young children not be designated a high risk offender who should be locked up forever?

That should be obvious — but not to a B.C. Supreme Court judge who last week ruled that Allan Schoenborn — who killed his kids at their home, leaving estranged wife Darcie Clarke to return home and discover unspeakable horror — is not “a high risk to re-offend.” (The complete judgment is here.)

What’s more, Justice Martha Devlin’s refusal to grant a Crown application to have Schoenborn designated a high risk accused means he retains the right to apply for escorted day passes into the community from the Colony Farm psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam and to have annual hearings from the BC Review Board instead of being restricted to once every three years.

There’s no question Schoenborn was mentally ill — or “not criminally responsible” when he stabbed to death his 10-year-old daughter Kaitlynne, took a cigarette break, and then smothered his sons, Max and Cordon, aged eight and five, in Merritt in April 2008.

The issue is why would society take the chance that his current “remission” won’t end and Schoenborn become violent again?

And the evidence he may suffer another psychosis is strong, Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson argued in court.

“Offences of such a brutal nature... indicate a risk of grave physical or psychological harm,” Dawson said. “There’s a substantial likelihood that Mr. Schoenborn will use violence that could endanger the life and safety of another person in the future.”

What’s more, Schoenborn had at least 49 aggressive or violent incidents in custody, Dawson said at a BC Review Board hearing in 2015 when he was seeking escorted day releases.

Dawson told the BC Supreme Court that Schoenborn is smart and “prone to lie if it will benefit him or if it will assist him in getting out of some legal difficulty.”

Even BC Review Board chair Bernd Walter has said previously — not regarding Schoenborn — that “Predicting human behaviour hasn’t been a resounding success.”

And the limited number of studies of recidivism — offenders repeating criminal behaviour — for those with mental illness offer no comfort.

Canada’s National Trajectory Project studied 1,800 cases of people found “not criminally responsible” due to mental disorder between 2000 and 2005 and reported 17 per cent re-offended within three years, with 0.6 per cent involving serious violence and another 8.8 per cent other violent acts. (The study notes that the general prison population has a recidivism rate twice as high as NCR offenders.)

Even if the NTP study is flawed — as Schoenborn’s ex-wife Darcie Clarke argues — it still strongly suggests a significant percentage of those incarcerated under “not criminally responsible” laws will violently re-offend in fairly short order.

And a 2001 Swedish study of 100 mentally disordered perpetrators of either severely violent or sexual crimes found a 20 per cent recidivism rate within six years — hardly reassuring to victims or the public.

But none of the evidence on Schoenborn’s continuing issues impressed Justice Devlin enough to grant high risk accused status under the terms of a law introduced in 2014 — to the dismay of his ex-wife’s family.

“If Allan won’t be high-risk designation, then who will qualify for high-risk designation?” said an emotional Stacy Galt, cousin of Darcie Clarke, Schoenborn’s ex-wife, outside the court.

“Our fear is real. What he did was heinous. And he shouldn’t be able to walk the streets. He should be in care for the rest of his life.”

Clarke, in an online statement on her website, is asking the Crown to appeal, saying the decision shamefully failed her and her children, while praising Crown lawyers in the difficult application.

“Allan Schoenborn is a man with a lifelong criminal history which includes violence. This violence continues to this day inside the Colony Farm Psychiatric Hospital where he has lived for the last seven years since being found not criminally responsible (NCR) for the murders of my children,” Clarke wrote.

“Today’s ruling has not only failed my family including my children, Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon, but the justice system has failed others dealing with similar NCR hearings.”

“During this hearing we heard from the doctors who treat Allan that he is dangerous. During this hearing we heard from former doctors and hospital staff that this triple child killer continues to be a threat to others.”

“But now, we have heard from a judge that Allan is NOT to be designated a high risk to public safety? Shameful.”

Shameful is exactly right. It’s time that the law and judges recognize that some killers can never be trusted to get better enough to gamble on their re-entry into society.

It’s also time that more resources be spent on treatment of mental illness before horrendous breakdowns result in murder cases like Schoenborn’s. Those with mental health problems should be helped, not feared or shunned.

And many who commit a crime under psychosis or other mental illnesses can recover and live useful lives safely in society if they receive appropriate treatment and medication.

Dave Texeira, a family friend and spokesperson for Clarke, said in an interview Sunday that “There needs to be more support — the system is failing not only victims but the mentally ill as well.”

And Texeira says how those found not criminally responsible are handled in psychiatric facilities also needs changes.

“The focus has to be on getting better, not getting out,” he said. “We need to better support those who are trapped in the NCR system — victims but also some patients.”

But when it comes to cases like Schoenborn’s of brutal murder of three children, forget it.

Treat them humanely but lock the door and toss the key. The safety of their victims’ families and the rest of us is too important to risk.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

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