WINNIPEG – Her son was sleeping peacefully, listening to music on his earphones as the Greyhound bus drove across the Prairies last summer.
Minutes later, horrified passengers heard Tim McLean “scream bloody murder” as he was repeatedly stabbed and eventually decapitated.
Seven months later, McLean’s mother Carol deDelley is steeling herself to face the man charged with second-degree murder in her son’s brutal slaying as Vince Li goes on trial in Winnipeg Tuesday.
But she doesn’t expect closure from the proceedings, regardless of the outcome.
“There is no possible good outcome for me,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The trial to me seems like another thing we have to endure – a formality that we have to sit through.”
That’s because the sole issue at the three-day trial, which is being heard by a judge without a jury, will be whether Li is criminally responsible for his actions.
Li’s lawyers have said they are not disputing that he killed McLean. Experts anticipate his lawyers will argue he was in an automaton state brought on by a mental health disorder and should be institutionalized rather than imprisoned.
If this argument is successfull, Li would not have a criminal record and could eventually be released into the community again if he’s deemed healthy by a mental health review board. Unlike a conviction for murder, anyone found not criminally responsible is also not required to serve a minimum amount of time in detention.
But the victim’s mother says the prospect that the man charged in her son’s death might eventually be released is too much to bear. The law has to be changed so anyone found not criminally responsible for a crime still serves time in prison, she said.
“I can’t have Timothy’s death, the way it happened, be for nothing,” said deDelley. “He was minding his own, sleeping on a bus. It could have been anybody. But it was my son. And it was so brutal.”
McLean was heading home to Manitoba after working at an Alberta fair last July. He was sitting near the back of the bus and a movie was playing for passengers as the bust approached Portage La Prairie, Man.
Suddenly, passengers heard a blood-curdling scream and turned to see McLean being stabbed repeatedly. Some riders rushed to the front, telling the driver to pull over. They scrambled to get out while the attacker methodically carved up McLean’s body, ignoring the chaos around him.
As passengers stood outside the locked bus, the attacker walked to the driver’s seat and dropped McLean’s head in plain view. Police tactical teams eventually arrived and arrested the suspect when he tried to climb out a bus window.
None of those who witnessed the horror will be expected to relive the experience at Li’s trial because an agreed statement of facts will take care of the details of the attack. Instead, many of the witnesses will be forensic psychiatrists who will speak about Li’s mental health.
But the victim’s mother says what will be lost during the trial is a description of the young man who she described as a larger-than-life personality who was “pure energy.”
“He’s referred to as the victim or the beheaded boy,” said deDelley.
“I will always be known as the beheaded boy’s mom now, but they’re losing track that this beheaded person was a vibrant, young, energetic young man with a life and a family,” she said. “I want to put a face back to that victim.”
“I’m going to be making as much noise as I can. It’s clear to me that change needs to happen.”
But legal experts say the “not-criminally-responsible” defence is rarely used and doesn’t mean the criminal walks away scot-free.
Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the defence will have to prove that any reasonable person suffering from the same mental health issues would be incapable of understanding that his actions were wrong.
He also said it’s very rare for anyone to plead under these provisions, especially since the Supreme Court has tightened up the cases that qualify.
“The fact that you are depressed doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to raise automotism or the mental disorder defence,” said Anand. “You’d have to be pretty delusional . . . or you would have to be in a catatonic-like state as a result of a mental disorder. It’s really quite rare.”
Lawyers don’t jump at the chance to plead not criminally responsible because the person could end up detained indefinitely rather than simply serving a fixed amount of time for a crime and being eligible for parole, he added.
Both Li’s defence lawyer Alan Libman and Crown Attorney Joyce Dalmyn declined to comment before the trial.
The case was moved from Portage La Prairie to Winnipeg, partially because of concerns for Li’s safety following death threats.
A spokesman for Justice Manitoba wouldn’t comment on the security measures taken at the courthouse or whether Li would be entering from an underground garage to reduce his public exposure.
However, the province says the courthouse is a secure building that requires visitors to pass through metal detectors and “appropriate measures” will be taken to ensure the safety of everyone in the courtroom.