A North Battleford man who brutally killed two people in a horrific axe killing eight years ago sought release from Saskatchewan Hospital last week.
Layne LaRose applied to be released from Saskatchewan Hospital, where he had been committed for treatment after being found not criminally responsible due to mental illness in connection to the May 28, 2002 killings of David Kennedy, 25, and Hughie Sayers, 74.
The review included statements from hospital staff, lawyers for LaRose and victim impact statements from families of the victims.
As expected, no immediate decision was announced, as Foley indicated the review panel would be taking a number of days or weeks to carefully come to a decision on the matter. Combe told reporters he expected the deliberations to take two weeks to a month before a decision on LaRose's release is rendered.
LaRose was the nephew of Hughie Sayers and David was his son-in-law. During the incident, LaRose committed both killings and also set the house, where the killings took place, on fire.
Thursday morning, before a Review Board of Saskatchewan hearing chaired by Judge Peter Foley, LaRose's attorney George Combe made an application to have LaRose released as part of a conditional discharge to an approved home in the North Battleford community under a number of strict conditions. Among the conditions would be continuing to take his mental illness medication and to continue to stay away from drugs and alcohol. As well, he would still have to answer to the review board.
Combe argued LaRose was in a position to make a more significant transition from the structured confines of Saskatchewan Hospital to continue his rehabilitation in the community. The application was supported by LaRose's team of doctors and support staff at Saskatchewan Hospital, who made the recommendation he be released to an approved home.
"I thought it was time to make an application to have him released into the community," Combe said to reporters after the hearing.
"His mental health is now stable - he understands he has an illness. The second thing is that he's prepared to take his medication, there's no indication that he's resorted to illegal activities or narcotics or alcohol," said Combe.
In the medical report filed to the review committee, it was noted LaRose's severe mental illness has been addressed continuously for the last eight years. In a report prepared by Dr. Robert Brown, it was pointed out LaRose understands his illness, still has the mental illness, but it is controlled by medication and by his abstinence from drugs and alcohol. His team of doctors pointed out during the hearing LaRose attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and there had been no incidents of him taking drugs or alcohol.
When he started treatment LaRose suffered from delusions and hallucinations, and the doctors indicated he no longer has those due to his treatment regimen.
Of concern to the board, however, was that LaRose also fit the criteria for "antisocial personality disorder," something much more difficult to treat than the mental illness itself.
Also of concern to the board were instances where LaRose has "bent the rules" within Saskatchewan Hospital. On one occasion LaRose was caught bringing soda pop into the hospital and selling it to the other patients. He did that on the basis everyone else was selling goods to other patients, it was said.
LaRose also violated one of his conditions by cutting grass in the community while unsupervised. That incident resulted in a suspension of his privileges.
Opposition to LaRose's release came from family members of the victims, with 32 victim impact statements handed in and 17 of them actually being submitted to the court. The rest were excluded, mainly Sinclair said, because they focused more on making statements about family members' frustrations about the justice system.
Members of David Kennedy's family filed most of the victim impact statements and many of his family members were also in the hearing room, including cousin Roxanne Kennedy, brother Skyler Whitefish.
Attorney Dean Sinclair from the Ministry of the Attorney General filed the victim impact statements and expressed the strong belief LaRose should not be released into the North Battleford community - and that it was a potential recipe for disaster.
"I presented some victim impact statements this morning indicating that many family members feel a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of resentment," said Sinclair, about the justice process. "Many of the family members are afraid to see Mr. LaRose on the street and they're afraid of what happens if he is released into the community of North Battleford."
Concern was expressed about the level of freedom LaRose already has to leave Saskatchewan Hospital. One of the victim impact statements indicated LaRose was seen in the 7-11 earlier in the week, where he bought a Slurpee. This was during an approved release and he was under his dad's supervision.
Mention was also made of impact the killings had on Roxanne's son, Nathan, who barely escaped the burning house. LaRose poured gasoline on the building and on Nathan before he escaped.
It was mentioned during the hearing and in victim impact statements that Nathan, an aspiring hockey player, was greatly affected by what happened and that it led to a downward spiral in his own life.
The Kennedy family is concerned about what might transpire if Nathan happened to run into Layne LaRose somewhere on the street. Another incident and even further tragedy could result, they said, with concern expressed that it would be LaRose who might end up harmed in such a confrontation.
A copy of Roxanne Kennedy's victim impact statement was provided to the News-Optimist, where she voiced her fears about a possible violent confrontation involving LaRose and other members of her family if he was released.
"You're asking for big problems to arise also causing me, my family and friends more heartache," she stated.
"Not all, but on behalf of some of these people they believe in 'an eye for an eye.' My son has changed so much along with a number of cousins and friends who hold anger towards Layne LaRose. Given the opportunity someone else could be hurt or Layne himself." She further stated that leaving LaRose to roam free would be "setting Layne up for failure."
Some review board members raised the prospect of moving LaRose to the Donaldson House facility as an alternative to an approved home. That would serve as a less-constrained environment but would still be a part of Saskatchewan Hospital, but LaRose's counsel weren't happy with the idea.
Kennedy's family members didn't like that idea either, but for far different reasons - they indicated they dodn't want LaRose in the North Battleford community, period.
"We want Layne to be out of this community", said Whitefish, talking to reporters outside the hospital following the hearing.
"We don't want him here. We're scared - still scared. We have a lot of pain and issues we still have to deal with."
Near the end of the review board's hearing, LaRose was able to go to the front of the room to speak. LaRose gave a prepared written statement, and he apologized for what had happened.
"I'm sorry for what I've done. I was very sick at the time this all happened," LaRose said.
LaRose admitted that at first he didn't trust the doctors , but that has changed, he said.
"Today, I trust my support team and their guidance. I haven't had any paranoid thoughts or any symptoms for five years."
LaRose looked sad and remorseful, but in control of his emotions. He took questions from his lawyer, Combe, as well as other board members, and said he hasn't missed his medication since 2002 and that his thinking process is clear.
He also addressed his breach of conditions where he went out to cut grass for extra money, calling it a "dumb thing to do."
He said the most important thing he's learned during his time in Saskatchewan Hospital was to take his medication and stay away from alcohol and drugs.
Kennedy family members were not so quick to accept LaRose's offer of an apology.
"I don't think he's remorseful. I don't know how a person can feel remorse if they don't remember what they've done, and that's the bottom line," Whitefish said. "He did say an apology and it was sincere. He looked sincere. It could be all playing a game to get out of this system and go live his normal life."
Whitefish admitted the annual review board process is always a tough one for him and the rest of the family to sit through.
"It's like a rusty butter knife carved into my soul," said Whitefish about the incident. "Every time we come into this system, it feels the same way. And this is how I help myself, by talking about it."
Judge Foley seemed mindful for the pain that the victims' families had already been through.
"This family has had sufficient tragedy," Foley said in his concluding remarks, adding for that to revive itself could be "another round of injury, tragedy and terrible hurt."