Thursday 5 March 2009

Is Vince Li really insane or is his insanity feigned?

Vince Weiguang Li, 40, of Edmonton walked into a courtroom in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba to face a hearing to determine if he was fit to stand trial for the second degree murder of a fellow passenger called McLean whom he killed in a Greyhound bus. The murder was horrific. He not only beheaded his victim, he disemboweled him and spread his entrails around the bus, put his victim’s nose and tongue and one of his ears in his pocket and ate part of his victim’s heart and both of his eyes.

At any time after the commencement of a prosecution for an offense and prior to the sentencing of the defendant, the defendant or the Crown Attorney for the Government may file a motion for a hearing to determine the mental competency of the defendant. The court shall grant the motion, or shall order such a hearing on its own motion, if there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense. If the court rules that such a person is incompetent to assist his lawyer during the proceedings, then the court can order that the defendant be placed in a mental institution until he is able to assist a lawyer in his defence.

I once investigated a case when I was an investigator for Ontario Legal Aid in which a man raped a woman and he was a declared mentally incompetent to instruct his lawyer in defending him. He was placed in a mental hospital for a couple of years and when he was declared sane enough to proceed with his trial, he had his trial and was convicted and sent to prison for three years.

When the judge whom Li appeared in front of initially asked Li whether he was exercising his right to remain silent, he nodded his head in the affirmative. This means that he was aware of his rights. If he was too incompetent to instruct a lawyer with respect to his defence, he wouldn’t be able to answer the question the judge put to him.

The Criminal Code of Canada states;

“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

“Every person is presumed not to suffer from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility (re above)..., until the contrary is proved on the balance of probabilities.

“The burden of proof that an accused was suffering from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility is on the party that raises the issue.”

Both the Crown and the defence have argued Li can't be held responsible because he is mentally ill. There is no doubt in my mind that this man is a very mentally sick individual. The question before the court however is; is he legally insane?

In modern usage, the term, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal, unscientific term, in the narrow legal context of the insanity defense. In the medical profession the term is now avoided in favor of more specific diagnoses of mental illness such as schizophrenia, paranoia and other psychotic disorders.

All jurisdictions require a sanity evaluation to address the question first of whether or not the defendant has a mental illness. Most courts accept a major mental illness such as psychosis but will not accept the diagnosis of a personality disorder for the purposes of an insanity defense.

The second question is whether the mental illness interfered with the defendant's ability to distinguish right from wrong. That is, did the defendant know that the alleged behavior was against the law at the time the offense was committed.

Additionally, some jurisdictions add the question of whether or not the defendant was in control of his behavior at the time of the offense. For example, if the defendant was compelled by some aspect of his mental illness to commit the illegal act, the defendant could be evaluated as not being in control of his behavior at the time of the offense.

In a decision, Buckley v Smith Transport Ltd., the Ontario Court of Appeal, cited at 1946 Ontario Reports 798, offered this broad defence:

“It is always a question of fact to be determined on the evidence, and the burden of proving that a person was without that appreciation and understanding and/or ability is always on those who allege it. Therefore, the question here is not limited to the bare inquiry whether or not Taylor at the time of the collision was labouring under this particular delusion, but whether or not he understood and appreciated the duty upon him to take care, and whether he was disabled, as a result of any delusion, from discharging that duty.”

The forensic mental health specialists submit their evaluations to the court. Since the question of sanity or insanity is a legal question and not a medical one, the judge and or jury will make the final decision regarding the defendant's status regarding an insanity defense. That is what the judge is going to do on March 5th 2009 with respect to Vince Li.

Crown lawyer Joyce Dalmyn said the court didn't even need to hear from psychiatrists who testified that Li didn't realize that killing and defiling McLean was wrong. She said, and I quote;

"He was out of touch with reality. He believed God was telling him to kill the evil force beside him ... He could not differentiate between wrong and right."

Now back to the issue of Li’s insanity. One time, Vince Li was upset about getting a traffic ticket and he recounted the incident to a friend. Vince Li said that “they were after me, there was nothing there.”

This was one of the indications that something was not quite right with him. There is an understatement if I ever saw one.

Insanity is defined as a mental disorder which impairs the human mind and prevents the victim of insanity to distinguish between actions that are right or wrong. A person who cannot distinguish between right and wrong would believe that what he did was the right thing to do.

A psychiatrist called by the defence echoed earlier testimony from a Crown psychiatrist that Li heard the voice of God telling him to kill McLean or risk being killed himself. In her closing arguments, Crown lawyer Joyce Dalmyn said the court didn't even need to hear from psychiatrists who testified Li didn't realize that killing and defiling McLean was wrong.

If in fact that is true, then Li would have no reason to believe that he did something wrong. However, if he believed that he did no wrong, then why did he try to drive the bus away? A person who tries to flee from a crime he has committed does so because he doesn’t want to be caught by the police. If that is his rational, then he must have known that what he had done was legally and morally wrong.

In Clark v. Arizona, 126 S. Ct. 2709 (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling that the defendant, Clark, could not present evidence of his mental illness to negate mens rea (criminal intent) because his illness fell short of meeting the requirements for insanity in the State of Arizona.

The question before the court in Portage la Prairie is; was Li really insane when he committed the horrific crime or is he faking his insanity? Feigned insanity is the simulation of mental illness in order to avoid or lessen the consequences of a confrontation or conviction for an alleged crime. There have been many instances where murderers have pretended that they are insane in order to escape going to prison for life or being executed.

There doesn’t appear to be any information in the news media that this man was suffering from a serious mental illness in the past.

A good (probable) feigned insanity case in point was that of American Mafia don Vincent Gigante, seen wandering the streets of Greenwich Village, Manhattan in his bathrobe and slippers, mumbling incoherently to himself, in what police characterized as an elaborate act. He believed that if he was classed as sane, he might be sent to prison for life without parole. On 25 July 1997, the 69-year-old Gigante was convicted on a range of charges after a trial in which he sat in a wheelchair in the dock, staring silently and refusing to testify on his own behalf. Sentencing him to 12 years in jail, the judge described him as "an old man finally brought to bay in his declining years after decades of vicious criminal tyranny". Even so, the aging capo was reckoned to have run the Genovese family until 2003 from his prison cell. That year he pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by faking mental illness and had three years added to his sentence.

I strongly suspect that Li is faking his insanity. Consider the following.

According to a testifying psychiatrist who diagnosed Li as suffering from schizophrenia, Li killed his victim because God's voice told him that his victim was a force of evil and was about to execute him. In other words, Li feared that he would be killed. If that is so, then why did Li, while he was in the courthouse, beg someone to kill him if he was so afraid of being killed by his victim?

This is what makes me believe that he is faking his insanity aside from the fact that prior to the event on the bus; he never told anyone in the past that he was hearing God’s voice.

The irony in Vince Li’s case is that if he is declared insane, he might very well spend the rest of his natural life in a maximum security mental hospital as it is likely that a psychiatrist wouldn’t want to risk his reputation by stating that this cannibal is finally mentally well enough to go back into society.

On the other hand, if it is determined that he is sane and he is convicted (and he would be, considering the evidence against him) he could be sent to prison for a minimum of 25 years and even then, he may never be released because the National Parole Board may not want to tarnish their reputation by releasing this cannibal back into society.

It is possible that the judge hearing this case will conclude that Li is severely mentally ill and yet be both competent to stand trial for murder and be held responsible for the murder of McLean.

If he declares him insane, my greatest fear is that someday in the future, this man may be declared cured of his insanity and be released back into society. If he is faking his insanity, then he will truly be a great risk to society because he will still be mentally ill, even if he isn’t insane. If he is really insane, it is unlikely that he can ever be cured of the mental illness he suffers from but he may convince his psychiatrist that he is cured. He will still be a risk to society.

I haven’t had the opportunity to have listened to the evidence in the court so I can’t be absolutely sure in my conclusions. I am only expressing my fears.

As soon as I learn what the judge’s ruling is, I will post it as an update.


Justice John Scurfield said Vince Li’s attack on Tim McLean last summer was “grotesque” and “barbaric,” but “strongly suggestive of a mental disorder.” The judge concluded that “Vince Li did not appreciate the actions he committed were morally wrong. He believed he was acting in self-defence.”

This means that Vince Li will not stand trial for the murder of his victim but will instead be sent to a mental hospital for the insane. I hope he is kept there for the rest of his life.

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