DISTURBING CONTENT: This story contains descriptions of graphic violence. Discretion is strongly advised.
The trial for the man accused of Calgary’s worst ever mass murder began Monday, in which Matthew de Grood entered not guilty pleas to five counts of first-degree murder via his lawyer, Allan Fay.
An agreed statement of facts was entered, in which 24-year-old de Grood admitted to a list of things, including the time at which he stabbed the victims, and the knife he used. A publication ban was also lifted on a police document containing a detailed account of the time before, during, and after the killings.
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“The agreed statement of facts…contained a good deal of evidence that would normally be introduced through witnesses giving evidence on the stand, but because that evidence is not in dispute in any fashion, rather than inconveniencing people by bringing them to court to testify, we proceeded in that fashion,” Fay said Monday.
WATCH: Accused mass murderer in Calgary pleads not guilty
Court heard his parents and sibling started noticing strange activity leading up to the night of the attacks, and became so concerned they considered having him taken into custody with a mental health warrant. De Grood had previously used cocaine and ecstasy, and his family wondered if he was using leading up to the stabbing spree.
Zackariah Rathwell, 21, Jordan Segura, 22, Josh Hunter, 23, Kaitlin Perras, 23, and Lawrence Hong, 27, were stabbed to death at a house party in Brentwood on April 15, 2014.
READ MORE: Timeline of the Brentwood tragedy
It’s alleged de Grood went on a violent stabbing spree, killing all five young people as they celebrated the University of Calgary’s annual Bermuda Shorts Day. A spokesperson from the University of Calgary said Monday the house party was not directly connected to the university or Bermuda Shorts day, and added there were several people at the party from a number of different post-secondary institutions.
The statement, read by Crown prosecutor Neil Wiberg, included that de Grood picked up a chef’s knife with a 21-centimetre long blade from the kitchen at the party, and stabbed the victims quickly.
At the party, witnesses said he was acting “weird” though he wasn’t seen taking any drugs or drinking alcohol. The statement of facts said he talked about vampires, and that “he was getting ready for the big apocalypse.”
“I didn’t do it, I want to talk to my lawyer,” de Grood told police while being arrested, according to the statement. “I was just trying to kill them before they killed me.”
“I’m sorry for being a terrible person…I didn’t enjoy killing…I did what I had to do.”
The trial will be heard by a Queen’s Bench judge alone.
The justice was brought in from Edmonton, at the request of de Grood’s lawyer. The father of the accused is a veteran Calgary police officer, so Fay said he wants to ensure there’s no appearance of bias.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Remembering the Brentwood 5
It’s expected de Grood’s mental state at the time of the killings will be at the forefront of the trial.
It is anticipated an NCR (not criminally responsible) defence will be advanced by Fay. NCR applies to those who are found to have committed an act that constitutes an offence, but cannot appreciate or understand what they did was wrong due to a mental disorder at the time.
“In order to be convicted of first-degree murder, it would be necessary for there to be proof that my client not only did the act that resulted in the death of the victims, but that he had the necessary mental element present,” Fay said Monday. “So in a case, yes, one can be found to have done the physical act without possessing the necessary mental element.”
READ MORE: What is Not Criminally Responsible?
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The trial is scheduled for two weeks. Wiberg has previously stated there will be admissions made by de Grood, allowing for the shorter trial time.
De Grood has been receiving treatment at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre since his arrest.
Emotional statement from the victims’ families
On Monday, Perras’ father Greg read a joint statement on behalf of the victims’ families outside of the Calgary Courts Centre, saying the last two years have been “extremely difficult” and “incredibly long.”
“It is immeasurable to comprehend the anguish and sorrow we have experienced over the last two years,” Greg Perras said. “Only those who have experienced significant loss can relate.”
“The priority for us during this trial is to ensure that our loved ones will be given the fair and just attention that they deserve. All we ask is that you remember how they lived – full of purpose, full of life, full of goodness and love for their friends and families.”
“Their deaths and this tragedy do not define them.”
De Grood’s parents were also in court Monday, sitting in the front row with other family members and friends.
“They’re here to support their son, and also to show their compassion for the victims,” Fay said.
Publication ban on police documents lifted Monday
A publication ban on an Information To Obtain (ITO) – a police document outlining the case for a judge—was also lifted Monday. The document is over 70 pages containing witness accounts of the crime and paints a picture of de Grood as a deeply troubled man. It also provides a detailed account of the time before, during, and after the killings. None of the allegations have been proven in court, but many of the details overlap with the agreed statement of facts read Monday morning.
Below are some key points from the ITO:
Witness accounts of events
De Grood had been invited to the house party by childhood friend, Brendan McCabe.
When the two met the night of April 15, de Grood gave McCabe a clove of garlic and a knife. According to McCabe, de Grood was talking about conspiracy theories, hidden messages in songs, and calling U.S. President Barack Obama the anti-Christ.
De Grood apparently put on blue latex surgical gloves.
“Matthew was wearing gloves in preparation for the end of the world,” one witness told police.
De Grood told people at the party his parents thought he was going insane, adding the end of the world was going to happen at midnight.
Other friends who spoke with de Grood throughout the night felt he wasn’t himself. One told McCabe they felt he was in a bad place, noting he had a pair of box cutters. McCabe asked de Grood for the box cutters, but he said no.
McCabe and some friends left the party to go to the nearby McDonald’s. When they returned, witnesses describe chaos at the house.
McCabe told police he saw Josh Hunter running out of the house with de Grood chasing him. McCabe ran after de Grood and talked him into giving him the knife. De Grood wiped blood on him and said they were blood brothers. But McCabe let him go – afraid that he had another knife – after de Grood told him not to get in his way or he would be next.
When McCabe returned to the house, he saw Hunter on the lawn. Zack Rathwell and Jordan Segura were on the ground and Katie Perras was injured inside the house.
Lawrence Hong was on the couch with a stab wound to the heart.
De Grood was caught running through the neighbourhood with the help of a police dog, which took him to the ground. He was reported at the time to have no “pain compliance” and behaving “extremely strong.”
Police interviews with de Grood
Once in police custody, de Grood told officers that he hoped they would shoot him so he could be reincarnated.
In the ambulance, de Grood was almost incoherent, telling police: “I am the son of God” and that he believes “killing people in self defence is just and fair.” He also said he was “born in an incubator” and was “an alien.”
De Grood initially asked officers to confirm he was being charged with three counts of murder and was told it was actually five. De Grood explained what led up to the stabbing:
“So what happened was the big tall guy, we were talking about my more Buddhist philosophies that we’re all going to die so just have fun, have sex etc… He obviously disagreed with me and was towering over me. I asked him to give me my space. We were walking toward the knife block so I decided to shoot first because I didn’t know what he was going to do so I stabbed him. Then the people on the couch saw and obviously started freaking out so I killed them from left to right as quickly as I could. The girl ran in to the corner so i went and stabbed her. I said I’m sorry I have to do this. Then the guy from the kitchen wasn’t dead; I had to hunt him down but then I just left.”
Once in hospital, de Grood admitted to the crime to a homicide detective saying, “I did stab five people.”
De Grood was advised that he should speak to a lawyer. He later asked if he would be taken to a mental institution or jail.
His parents were worried about de Grood and were texting him while he was at the party. His father, Doug de Grood, a senior member of the Calgary Police Service, messaged:
“Are you OK? I am very concerned about your incoherent ramblings.”
De Grood responded with:
“Iilluminati…Mary doesn’t have to die this time operation mindcrime to American soldier.”
Doug texted back:
“You’re sounding like you are losing your mental faculties.”
One day earlier, Doug and Susan de Grood told police they had discussed pursuing a mental health warrant for their son but decided to hold off.
De Grood’s mother, father and sister told police they noticed a major change in his personality in the two weeks leading up to the murders. He had started talking about politics and religion and had also disengaged from the family, spending more time using his computer.
He had been posting cryptic messages on Facebook, including lyrics to heavy metal songs. His family was concerned de Grood might be doing drugs. In high school, de Grood went into treatment after issues with cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana use.
Later that night, likely around the time of the killings, Doug sent a series of unanswered texts:
“Hey where are you…[don’t] do anything rash. We love you.”
LIVE BLOG: Follow reporter Nancy Hixt as she live tweets the details of the trial from the Calgary Courts Centre