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Lawyer tells Alberta's highest court review board biased in de Grood's case

A family member of five slain students holds a heart sign with their names on it following a court decision in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Alberta's highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision on the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta's highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home after the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party. 

The lawyer representing Matthew de Grood argued Wednesday the review board's decision was biased, citing what she described as political interference from Alberta's former justice minister. 

 "The appellant says, 'I think the conclusion about me is wrong. The board's conclusion is incorrect and not supported by evidence,''' Jacqueline Petrie said before the Alberta Court of Appeal. "He says there's no significant evidence that he's a risk."

De Grood, 31, was found not criminally responsible in 2016 for the killings two years earlier of Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong because he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time. Petrie said de Grood has been stable on medication, is at low risk to reoffend and should be allowed to live with his parents while being monitored under a full warrant.

She argued the review board misunderstood medical evidence during the September 2022 review, which deemed de Grood a significant risk despite the assessment showing improvements. She said the board is supposed to recommend the least onerous disposition compatible with public safety and did not do that for de Grood. 

The defence lawyer has said the review had been influenced by former justice minister Doug Schweitzer, who weighed in on de Grood's case in October 2019 after the panel allowed de Grood to transition from institutional care to a supervised group home.

He has been under supervision at a group home. His case is reviewed by the Alberta Review Board yearly to see whether he can transition back into the community while maintaining public safety.

Petrie pointed at de Grood's "exemplary record," and that he has been "compliant to the (medical) treatment team." 

"Nobody knew he had schizophrenia (at the time of the stabbings) and needed medication."

Crown prosecutor Matthew Griener said the board considered a conditional discharge but dismissed it, citing a relapse in schizophrenia symptoms in 2021.

Griener said de Grood's relapses were brief and happened at the hospital, providing an early window for medical professionals to intervene.

Justice Kevin Feehan said de Grood may be low-risk, but the consequences of even one relapse could be significant.

Reading from an expert's report, Feehan said: "A low risk to offend doesn't mean the reoffence would not be severe."

Some family members of the victims drove from Calgary for the hearing. 

Segura's mother, Patty, said the last nine years have been about de Grood and his rights. 

"He should be thankful that he ended up NCR (not criminally responsible) rather than end(ing) with five life sentences for murdering five people," she said. "He should not be appealing."

Hunter's father, Barclay, opposed a potential full release.

"The idea that he wouldn't be monitored for the rest of his life seems to defy logic, it doesn't make any sense," said the father. 

Hunter's mother, Kelly, said the family has had "no healing." 

"We do this every year, at least once. Now, this is the second appeal," she said. Barclay 

Hunter said although there are attempts to reintegrate de Grood into society, he hopes the man is not left on his own with an absolute discharge.

"Regardless of what they say, he killed five people. If that doesn't stand on its own as a risk factor, then I don't know what does."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Ritika Dubey, The Canadian Press

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