Winnipeg beheading killer a ‘decent man’: Doctor
Vincent Li has very strong chance to recover from major mental illness
By Mike McIntyre, Winnipeg Free Press
WINNIPEG — He claims voices in his head from God caused him to single out a perfect stranger, stab him multiple times and then decapitate, defile and cannibalize the body in front of dozens of horrified witnesses.
But despite committing one of the most gruesome crimes in Canadian history, Vincent Li could be rehabilitated enough to return to the streets one day, according to his doctor.
It’s an assessment that’s frustrating members of Tim McLean’s family, who were in court Tuesday to see the man accused of brutally killing their 22-year-old son.
Psychiatrist Stanley Yaren told Li’s second-degree murder trial the admitted killer has a very strong chance to recover from the major mental illness and extreme psychosis that triggered last summer’s slaying of McLean on board a Greyhound bus.
He said he could make a significant recovery in the next few years under rigorous treatment and medication.
The brutal incident took place on a bus travelling near Portage la Prairie, Man., about 80 kilometres west of Winnipeg, on July 30, 2008.
Li boarded the Greyhound in Edmonton, with a ticket that would take him to Thunder Bay, Ont. But his trip ended two days later when he attacked McLean.
RCMP arrived on scene and watched from outside the bus, alongside dozens of passengers, for several hours as Li continued to stab and defile McLean’s body.
Li was seen eating some of McLean’s remains. Police later discovered McLean’s eyes, part of his heart and other pieces of his flesh were missing.
Yaren said Tuesday that Li is slowly beginning to realize what he’s done but still doesn’t accept the fact he consumed some of McLean’s body parts.
“It may be he’s blocked it from his consciousness . . . that it’s just too awful for him to contemplate,” he said.
Li admits he killed McLean but began his case Tuesday by pleading not guilty by reason of a mental disorder.
Yaren, a witness on behalf of the Crown who is the director of forensic psychiatry for both Manitoba and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, has concluded Li should be found not criminally responsible for his actions based on his mental state at the time.
Such a ruling would send him to a hospital, instead of a prison, for an indefinite period.
Yaren described Li as an otherwise “decent person” who was suffering from untreated schizophrenia and clearly out of his mind when he believed he was acting on God’s commands to eliminate “the force of evil” by attacking the sleeping McLean.
“He was being tormented by auditory hallucinations,” said Yaren, who has worked closely with Li at the Health Sciences Centre psychiatric ward in Winnipeg since he arrived last August.
“He believed Mr. McLean was a force of evil and was about to execute him. He had to act fast, urgently, to save himself. This wasn’t an innocent bystander or stranger he chose to kill, but rather an evil force he was commanded to kill.”
Wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, Li shuffled into the courtroom Tuesday led by several sheriff’s officers. He sat motionless in the prisoner’s box, wearing a dark suit jacket, slacks and a light-coloured dress shirt without a tie.
Yaren said Li has been co-operative and made significant strides since being hospitalized and medicated and could function again in the community — something Yaren admits doesn’t sit well with most people, including the victim’s family.
“I completely understand the need for a sense of justice, of retribution,” said Yaren.
“It would be in some sense easier if Mr. Li was an anti-social psychopath with a history of malicious behaviour, but he isn’t that. He is, as I’ve come to know him, a decent person.”
Li still suffers delusions, including a belief he will one day be executed, Yaren said.
“He is not 100 per cent out of his psychotic phase yet,” he said. “But over time, as he recovers, he will have to come to terms with the awful things that have occurred.”
Yaren said Li began experiencing psychotic episodes around 2003, including a 2005 incident where he was picked up by police walking down Highway 401 in Ontario, believing he was “following the sun” after shedding most of his possessions.
He was briefly hospitalized in Etobicoke, Ont., but received no further followup after refusing to accept he had an illness or take any treatment, court was told.
Tim McLean’s mother, Carol deDelley, said she found it offensive a city psychiatrist described her son’s killer as a decent man.
“I hate the illness, but that doesn’t mean I forgive the man,” she said Monday.
She also said she found it difficult being in court hearing the details of her son’s death being made public for the world to hear.
But she added she was compelled to be in court so her son’s death would not be in vain.
“I’ve got to say what I think needs to be said. If I just stay at home. I’m just accepting this for the way that it is.”
She was joined by about a dozen family and close friends, many wearing white T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with McLean’s picture.
DeDelley has said she wants the law changed so anyone found not criminally responsible for a crime still serves time behind bars.
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Stephen Allison was sitting across the aisle from Vincent Weiguang Li when he allegedly beheaded and defiled McLean’s body near Portage la Prairie on July 30. He hailed McLean as a hero.
“If it wasn’t for what he did, there would have been more that didn’t get off that bus,” said the 19-year-old Northwest Territories native.
He said McLean tried to get away from the suspect, attempting to fight off his killer after receiving at least two devastating stab wounds.
“When Tim fought back, he gave us all time to get off the bus,” Allison said in Winnipeg last night. “He was asleep initially, but then he jumped over (the suspect) and tried to fight … it was a last attempt (to save his own life).”
He said that last ditch move landed McLean in the aisleway, where the suspect allegedly continued his brutal attack.
“He was quickly and repeatedly stabbing him … he was arching his back, using his whole body. He was coming crashing down with each blow,” said Allison, noting the suspect used a double-edged hunting knife about 15 centimetres in length.
Allison ran to the front of the bus to tell the driver to pull over, then returned to the rear of the bus to reach his wife Isabelle, who was still near the horrifying scene.
“By the time I got back, (McLean) wasn’t moving,” he said, noting only seconds had passed.
Allison said he believed he and others were also in danger.
Allison and his wife were travelling from Fort Smith, N.W.T., to Kenora to visit family at the time of the murder, before moving onto Winnipeg to attend school. He said witnessing the grisly murder so closely has had a terrible impact on their lives, even prompting him to steer away from an education in criminal justice this fall for one in environmental sciences.
“We can’t even sleep through the night any more,” he said.
Li, 40, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the homicide. His next court appearance is set for Sept. 8.