Man charged with stabbing soccer player found not criminally responsible
Nicholas Layman, 19, accused of stabbing an 11-year-old boy on a Newfoundland soccer field walks into provincial court in St. John's Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.
Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016 10:13AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 20, 2016 6:00PM EST
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- "Get that kid."
Those were the words of a schizophrenic "command voice" so powerful that Nicholas Layman cannot be convicted in the stabbing of an 11-year-old boy on a Newfoundland soccer field, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Layman heard the phantom instruction moments before plunging a 25-centimetre blade into the boy's neck and chest, Judge Colin Flynn read from his decision in provincial court.
He found that Layman, now 21, was so sick with uncontrolled psychosis on Sept. 25, 2014 that he cannot be held criminally responsible.
"Mr. Layman was suffering from a mental disorder to such an extent that he was unable to understand that what he did was morally wrong. As a result, I find that Mr. Layman is not guilty of the offences on account of mental disorder pursuant to S. 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada," said Flynn.
The attack happened during an evening soccer camp in Conception Bay South, west of St. John's, attended by more than 20 players aged 10 to 13 and their parents.
Witnesses quoted in Flynn's ruling described "pandemonium" and "children running everywhere" as the wounded boy grasped his throat, blood seeping through his fingers. A nurse who happened to be there helped a man keep pressure on the child's neck as emergency crews raced to the scene.
"He was compelled by the voices he heard to attack that young boy," Flynn concluded. As a result, he was unable to comprehend that what he was doing was "morally wrong."
A forensic psychiatrist reported those symptoms of psychosis did not abate until two months after Layman was hospitalized.
He was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. He showed no emotion as he sat in the witness box Wednesday with his ankles shackled and hands folded.
Layman will remain in custody in a forensic psychiatric unit at the Waterford Hospital in St. John's. A review board including medical and legal professionals will monitor his mental state. It will also decide if and when he will be released, and under what conditions.
Flynn's ruling says Layman approached the boy, who cannot be identified under a publication ban, at about 7:45 p.m. that night. Two groups of four teams aged 10 to 13 were taking part in the soccer skills program.
Layman moved "as if he was going to hug him."
Instead, he stabbed the boy "about five times" in the chest and neck, says the ruling. Layman then jumped over a fence and took off in a vehicle. The whole incident lasted about 30 seconds.
Flynn noted Wednesday that while Layman's escape might suggest he knew what he was doing, he made no effort to conceal his bloody clothes and had been experiencing paranoid delusions for months.
Family members said he went off related medication in the weeks before the stabbing.
Layman was arrested without incident 90 minutes later about one kilometre from the soccer field near his mother's home.
Outside court, the victim's parents credited the quick response of onlookers for saving their son's life. He required surgery and was released from hospital two weeks later.
His mother called her boy, now 12, "a miracle." The damage to major arteries in his neck meant "he should have bled out on the field," she said.
Her son is playing soccer again and doing well in school, she added. She and her husband said they hope for the sake of public safety that Layman gets all the help he needs before being released.
Layman's father, Scott, said the awful ordeal should be a wake-up call for better services.
"I'm hoping, with this decision, this will put pressure on our mental health people and say, listen, we need to change. Things have got to change. This should have never happened."
His wife Doreen, Layman's stepmother, said they struggled to get information about their son's condition as he continued to deteriorate. His illness started with depression a few months before he turned 19 and quickly worsened, she said.
"When something like this happens you feel like you've done it yourself. There's no words that explain how sorry we feel."
Layman's defence lawyer Mark Gruchy, a local mental health advocate, said it can be difficult to get answers when an adult child withdraws into illness.
"They could not have known and did not know the extent to which this was going on with Nick. No one did, frankly. He was very quiet about it."