Hallucinations drove Kellie Johnson to kill her five-year-old son, the chief forensic psychologist for the Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford told a Saskatoon courtroom Wednesday.
Johnson’s defence lawyer, Leslie Sullivan, called Lindsay Robertson to testify Wednesday in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench.
The events on the night Jonathan Vetter died in January 2014 aren’t in question because they were agreed to by the Crown and defence and presented to a judge in February, but Sullivan wants a verdict of not criminally responsible. This requires her to prove Johnson was mentally ill when she killed her son, and that the illness left Johnson unable to either appreciate the character and quality of her actions or distinguish between right and wrong.
Robertson was the second mental health expert witness called by the defence. Dr. Mansfield Mela, a forensic psychiatrist, testified on Tuesday.
Robertson assessed Johnson just a few days after she stabbed Vetter in the throat while he was sleeping. She has also been providing ongoing care to Johnson at the Saskatchewan Hospital in the years since her arrest.
Robertson said following interviews with Johnson’s mother and ex-boyfriend and an assessment of the medical records, she concluded Johnson was suffering from mental illness since at least 2008, and possibly as early as 2006.
She said one of Johnson’s most persistent symptoms is a hallucination of a woman character that instructs and berates her. She said this hallucination had previously caused Johnson to do things like walk into the middle of a busy street, or go for months without wearing shoes.
Robertson testified side effects caused Johnson to stop taking scheduled injections for at least a month before she killed Vetter. She said Johnson’s account of events has remained generally consistent for years, and for several different doctors who have assessed her.
Johnson believed the imaginary woman was going to kill her, according to Robertson. Robertson said Johnson believed after the woman killed her, her son would be sexually molested, become a molester himself and then spend eternity in hell.
Robertson told court Johnson believed she was sending her son to heaven when she killed him.
Given the chance to cross-examine Robertson, Crown prosecutor Brian Hendrickson focused on parts of the account that seemed to show Johnson making rational decisions.
Johnson bought the knife two weeks before she killed Vetter. Hendrickson also noted she hid the weapon, checking it was still where she’d put it at least three times.
Hendrickson asked about Johnson’s actions after Vetter’s death. She left the home, went to a fast food restaurant and ditched her blood-stained clothes before going to the hospital and telling workers there she believed she may have hurt her son.
Robertson agreed all these actions could appear rational taken by themselves, but it was more likely that Johnson was acting within the framework of her delusions.
She testified in their interviews, Johnson told her she fully expected to get caught: she’d left the knife with her fingerprints at the scene, and at the time, she believed another person living in her home had heard everything. Johnson told Robertson she changed out of her bloody clothes because she didn’t want to draw attention, which could have led medical help to get to her son and prevent him from going to heaven.
Robertson said Johnson hid the knife because she believed the hallucination of the woman would kill if she discovered it.
Robertson was the last witness for the defence. The Crown is expected to call its own mental health expert on Thursday.