Man Acquitted Of Sleepwalking Murder Running For School Trustee In Durham

Ken Parks is running for trustee. In 1987 he was at the centre of a high-profile murder case that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

He was acquitted of the murder of his mother-in-law and the attempted murder of his father-in-law in 1989. That decision was upheld by the Supreme Court a few years later.

Parks turned himself over to authorities after the crime, but doctors determined that he was asleep when it happened – he drove from Pickering to his in-laws’ home in Scarborough and brutally attacked his wife’s parents (see case details below).

While Parks was not held responsible for that crime, he did plead guilty to fraud around the time of his mother-in-law’s death. He admitted to falsely billing his employer for $30,000 to cover his gambling debts and paid full restitution. He was also treated for the sleep disorder.

Parks, who has six children, five in the Durham board, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

While these crimes happened nearly 20 years ago, the community isn’t very forgiving.

“I’m a professor at the university and I teach in education and my first concern would be a lack of ethics and lack of professionalism on somebody who is representing our school board,” professor Ann Lesage said.

“Sleepwalking perhaps, a medical thing, but not the embezzlement,” civil servant Alan MacDonald said.

The Kenneth Parks Case

The story of Kenneth Parks reads like a work of fiction. And there’s little doubt many people thought his story was just that.

But a court believed the excuse of how and why he murdered one of his relatives, and today he’s a free man.

It started in 1987, when Parks got into his car, drove 20 kilometres to the home of his in-laws, entered their house with a key they’d given him and using a tire iron he brought with him, bludgeoned his mother-in-law to death.

He then turned on her husband, attempting to choke him to death, but he managed to survive the attack.

He got back in his car and, despite being covered with blood, drove straight to a nearby police station and confessed, turning himself in. “I think I have just killed two people,” he told the stunned cops.

It seemed to be an open and shut case, and because Parks was a compulsive gambler who had recently embezzled money from his own family, police believed that was the motive.  

But Parks came up with a different and totally astounding explanation. He had been watching TV and nodded off. He began sleepwalking and committed the crime while he was unconscious. He even insisted he was fast asleep when he surrendered.

The Crown was skeptical and so were many observers. But experts battled it out in the courts and because he had a history of sleepwalking, the jury ruled he was wasn’t responsible for his actions.

He missed a life sentence by avoiding a guilty verdict. And he wasn’t sentenced to a psychiatric hospital because he wasn’t judged insane.

Instead, in a stunning twist of fate that made headlines around the world, he walked out of the courtroom a free man. The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but the judges there upheld the decision.

Parks was put on medication and never had a reoccurrence of his somnambulism. He remains a notorious and curious footnote in legal history.

To read the Supreme Court ruling on this precedent setting case, click here.

This is an unusual case that many people who sleepwalk will likely never have to face. Here’s some more information on the sleep disorder:

What Is Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a disorder that involves walking or performing other complex behaviours while asleep.

Sleepwalking is more prevalent in children and usually occurs in people who are sleep deprived according to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States.

Here are some other characteristics of sleepwalking, courtesy of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

  • Usually originating from slow wave sleep
  • Usually occurs in the first one-third of the night
  • Sexual arousal not present
  • Duration less than 30 minutes
  • Occasional violence, injury, and self-injury
  • Walking out of bed
  • Predominantly in children

Sleepwalking symptoms can vary from simply sitting up in bed to walking around the house or even leaving the home and traveling long distances. (see more below)

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of sleepwalking among the general population in the United States is low, between one and 15 percent.

What Are The Symptoms?

Courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation.

  • Sleep talking
  • Little or no memory of the event
  • Difficulty arousing sleepwalker during an episode
  • Inappropriate behaviour, such as urinating in closets (more common in children)
  • Screaming (when sleepwalking occurs in conjunction with sleep terrors)
  • Violent attacks on the person trying to wake the sleepwalker

For more information on sleep walking and other sleep disorders, visit the following links:

The Canadian Sleep Society
The Better Sleep Council Canada
The Sleep Institute of Ontario
The National Sleep Foundation (US)

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