In a decision that lawyers say is rare, a jury has found Richard Kachkar not criminally responsible for the death of Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell.
Justice Ian MacDonnell said at the start of the trial that Kachkar, 46, struck and killed Russell with a stolen snowplow on Jan. 12, 2011. But in question during the trial was his state of his mind and whether he intended to kill the officer.
The verdict means Kachkar, 46, will be sent to a mental health facility for assessment and treatment. He can only be released if a review board concludes he poses no threat to public safety. Kachkar was remanded into custody after the verdict.
It took the jury of six men and six women three days to reach its decision. Kachkar didn’t react.
Russell’s widow, Christine, sat motionless after the verdict was read and then shook her head. A friend of the Russell family directed an expletive at Kachkar as he was led out of the court.
Outside the courtroom, Christine said, “I imagine like most people that everyone is very disappointed, that we’re heartbroken. I believe that Ryan deserved a lot better than this and he was serving and protecting all of us.”
But she wanted to save the most emotional and personal comments for the review board “because I really want there to be some justice in this case.”
Russell’s wife said that there’s no closure for her because she will likely have to “fight this for the rest of my life” on a yearly basis before a review board.
“There’s no healing. There’s no closure. There’s no end,” she said. “We don’t even know when we’ll go before this review board. I’m sitting in limbo holding my breath, waiting for this.”
Defence lawyer Bob Richardson declined to speculate how long Kachkar would remain in a psychiatric facility, saying some people remain there for “years and years.”
“People think that this is some sort of a cakewalk. It’s not. The review board’s primary focus is the protection of the public.”
Richardson, who believed the verdict was the right one, said the board members would assure that the public’s safety isn’t at risk and would diligently review Kachkar’s case before making even the slightest changes to his conditions.
The judge has ordered a hearing within 45 days to determine what hospital Kachkar will go to and what his conditions will be and then eventually there will be an annual review of his situation with input from his doctors, Richardson said.
Richardson said Kachkar knows what happened but he doesn’t understand how or why it happened.
“Mr. Kachkar feels terrible about what happened,” he said. “Mr. Kachkar has specifically told me the focus today should be on Sgt. Russell and his family.”
Following the verdict, police chief Bill Blair said his thoughts were with the Russell family.
“The outcome of this trial just reinforces the tragic nature of this terrible event,” he said. “There is never a resolution that can restore that lost man to his family and a lost officer to the service.”
But Blair said he accepted the jury’s verdict and that he hoped the “resolution of the matter” would give the Russell family “the opportunity to move on.”
Toronto Det. Mary Vruna, one of the homicide investigators on the case, told reporters “we’re sort of in a moment of shock,” and are still trying to process what’s happened.
The trial heard from dozens of witnesses over six weeks, including three forensic psychiatrists who testified that they believed Kachkar was psychotic at the time he killed Russell while on a rampage through the city.
Russell, who left behind his wife and young son Nolan, was killed when he tried to stop Kachkar. The dashboard camera from his cruiser shows the plow doing a U-turn and then driving toward the police vehicle.
Russell reversed as the plow drove toward the cruiser. The plow was briefly off camera and witnesses testified that in that moment Kachkar slowed the plow and opened the door as if to get out.
The officer then got out of his cruiser and Kachkar accelerated at him, witnesses testified. The plow clipped the driver’s side front corner of the cruiser and Russell fired three shots toward the plow as it continued at him, but to no avail, witnesses said.
The 5,050-kilogram plow hit Russell, knocking him over and spinning his body toward the centre of the plow, where the blade struck Russell in the head, fracturing his skull and lacerating his brain stem.
Russell’s death came at about the halfway point of Kachkar’s two-hour rampage with the stolen plow.
Kachkar had spent the previous night at a shelter and suddenly fled before 5 a.m. that day, running out into the snow in bare feet. He stole a pickup truck with a plow attached to the front from two landscapers who had stopped for coffee.
The man from St. Catharines, Ont., drove the plow around the city, driving into a luxury car dealership, hitting vehicles and crossing into oncoming traffic. Witnesses heard him yelling at various points about the Taliban, Chinese technology and that “it’s all a Russian video game.”
He was finally stopped by emergency task force officers who Tasered him and shot him in order to arrest him.
As paramedics tended to his gunshot wounds he worried they were trying to poison him or put microchips in his body, court heard.
Three forensic psychiatrists who testified, including one who had assessed Kachkar at the request of the Crown, concluded that he was in a psychotic state when he killed Russell, but they were all unsure exactly how to categorize his mental illness.
Dr. Philip Klassen said Kachkar appears to have been suffering for several years from a “low-grade” mental illness with periodic spikes, such as in 2006 when he woke up in the middle of the night screaming that he was possessed by the devil and slapped his wife.
Kachkar was estranged from his family at the time he killed Russell.
Dr. Klassen said if he had to offer a diagnosis it would be either an unspecified psychotic disorder or possibly schizophrenia.
Dr. Lisa Ramshaw testified that Kachkar was unable to apply knowledge in a meaningful way at the time. Kachkar was interpreting his world in a false way, believing people were after him, she said.
Widow supports bill C-54
The federal government is considering changes to the Criminal Code that would affect those found not criminally responsible, and Russell’s widow said she supports the proposed Bill C-54.
“I’m going to advocate very hard for that,” she said.
Under the new legislation, those convicted could be given a “high-risk” designation. It would be more difficult for offenders to obtain day passes from mental health facilities, and would allow more influence from victims – or the families of victims – during review hearings.
Review boards could also wait longer – three years, up from one – to reconsider discharge applications.
With files from The Canadian Press