An hour after she killed her five-year-old son, a Saskatoon woman on trial for first-degree murder told a nurse at Royal University Hospital (RUH) that she was hallucinating and may have hurt the boy because she was trying to save him from going to hell.
The information was contained in an agreed statement of facts presented during the first day of the trial for Kellie Dawn Johnson at Saskatoon’s Court of Queen’s Bench. But the 36-year-old’s lawyer, Leslie Sullivan, is trying to prove that her client is not criminally responsible.
“We have to demonstrate that Ms. Johnson was suffering from a mental disorder, and I would think that that’s not an issue here. Once that is in place, the next step is to determine whether it rendered her incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or of knowing that it was wrong,” Sullivan said outside the courthouse.
The facts state that on Jan. 4, 2014, Johnson slit her son’s throat while her other son was sleeping in the same bunk bed in their home on Avenue R South. She had been using the computer in the boys’ bedroom, and a family member later told police the accused would talk to dead people through the computer keyboard.
Five-year-old Jonathan Vetter was pronounced dead when officers arrived at the home after receiving a call from the boy’s grandfather, who lived with the accused. Johnson’s other son told police he awoke to his younger brother gasping and heard his mom say “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry” before she ran out of the house.
Johnson was recorded entering St. Paul’s Hospital around 5:30 a.m., where she changed out of her blood-covered clothes which were later found in a garbage can. She asked to use a phone and was denied, so she took a taxi to the McDonald’s on Eighth Street. Surveillance video showed her ordering food before asking an employee to use a phone so that she could call another cab.
The taxi picked Johnson up at 6:20 a.m. and dropped her off at RUH. According to the facts, she told a triage nurse “she may have hurt (her son) with a knife and that she was trying to save her child from hell.”
Johnson was arrested at the hospital. The police officer who later interviewed her said the woman appeared sober, calm and “didn’t seem to show much emotion” before she was charged with first-degree murder. According to the agreed statement of facts, she told the officer that she “had a really bad hallucination” and had to send her son to heaven because she thought a lady was going to send him to hell by “continually molesting him.”
But Johnson did appear to understand the conversation, Saskatoon Police Service Sgt. Kevin Montgomery testified during the first day of the woman’s trial on Tuesday.
Almost as soon as the judge-alone trial began, court entered a voir dire, or trial within a trial, to determine if Johnson’s police interview would be admissible at the trial proper. Justice Neil Gabrielson ruled that the Crown proved the statement was voluntary and admitted the video as evidence.
Wearing a white jumpsuit, Johnson’s body language appears open and comfortable in the video taken after she was arrested at RUH back in 2014. She told Montgomery that her mental health issues began about four years ago when she started seeing a woman who would threaten to send her and her two young sons to hell. It was because her ex-boyfriend was trying to turn Jonathan into a pedophile, she said in the police interview.
“Whatever it is, it’s quite scary, it’s quite real,” she said, adding she felt like she had known the woman who she referred to as “the devil in re-incarnation” for centuries. Johnson said the evil woman was constantly stalking her and would often speak to her through the letters on her computer keyboard.
Johnson indicated she had been receiving injections of Clopixol, an antipsychotic often used to treat schizophrenia, but had been off the medication for about a week-and-a-half because it made her feel dizzy. She also said she would periodically take Olanzapine, another type of antipsychotic.
During the conversation, Johnson told police she understood what was going on and was aware of her surroundings. She turned her body away and crossed her arms when Montgomery asked her why she killed Jonathan.
“This was your son,” Montgomery reiterated.
“Yes this is my son and I’m in shock, I’m in really big shock,” she replied.
At one point, the accused stood up and tried to leave the interview room after Montgomery asked how Johnson’s other son and mother must feel.
“I’m investigating a five-year-old child who’s been brutally murdered by his mother and part of my job is to try and figure out why,” he said.
But Johnson did not offer any insight, saying her lawyer had advised her to stay quiet.
The week-long trial was scheduled to begin Monday but was set over to Tuesday because one of the expert witnesses became ill. As a result, the remainder of the trial was adjourned until May to avoid splitting up the expert testimony. The three witnesses will provide evidence on Johnson’s medical history, Sullivan said.
The accused will remain in custody at the North Battleford Forensic Hospital.