Manslaughter or murder? Man accused of killing Abbotsford student to learn fate in February

Gabriel Klein sits in court on November 9, 2016. Sketch by Felicity Don

The fate of the man accused of fatally stabbing a teenage student inside an Abbotsford high school will be decided in February, a B.C. Supreme Court judge said Wednesday.

The announcement came at the end of the trial of Gabriel Klein, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 13-year-old Letisha Reimer and aggravated assault in the stabbing of her friend on Nov. 1, 2016.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said she will issue her decision on whether to find Klein guilty of murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter on Feb. 21, 2020.

Click to play video: 'Crown presents last witness in trial of man accused of killing Abbotsford student' Crown presents last witness in trial of man accused of killing Abbotsford student
Crown presents last witness in trial of man accused of killing Abbotsford student – Nov 1, 2019

Klein’s lawyer Martin Peters told the court on Wednesday the manslaughter charge is more appropriate, arguing his client did not intentionally plan to walk into Abbotsford Senior Secondary School and stab the girls.

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Instead, Peters said Klein had stolen alcohol and a hunting knife earlier that day in order to get drunk and stab a police officer, an effort the now 24-year-old hoped would lead to his own death through suicide-by-cop.

Video played to the court this week showed Klein taking the liquor and knife from separate stores.

Peters said 2.8 ounces of rum were missing from a bottle Klein had stolen, impairing his mental capacity at the time of the stabbings.

READ MORE: Gabriel Klein knew repeated stabbing could lead to girl’s death at B.C. school: Crown

“My point is that we got someone who is drinking and who wants to commit suicide or have suicide committed on him,” Peters said outside the court in New Westminster.

“We’re not dealing with a fully functional individual here, therefore it goes back to the point of intent. He didn’t have the capacity to intend to kill Letisha Reimer.”

Neither side denies that Klein stabbed the girls. The case instead hinges on Klein’s mental state at the time of the killing, and whether he can be found not criminally responsible for the action because of mental disorder.

A forensic toxicologist has testified that Klein had alcohol and THC in his system during the attack, but that the combination would not produce mental confusion.

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Click to play video: 'Psychiatrist testifies at trial of Gabriel Klein' Psychiatrist testifies at trial of Gabriel Klein
Psychiatrist testifies at trial of Gabriel Klein – Oct 22, 2019

Witnesses have testified during the weeks-long trial that Klein was exhibiting strange behaviour before the attack, including grunting and making high-pitched noises.

A psychiatrist who assessed him four days after the killing testified Klein said he heard voices saying “kill, kill, kill,” and that when he saw Reimer and her friend he “saw two monsters.”

Klein has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and other witnesses have said they saw Klein exhibit symptoms of the mental illness.

READ MORE: Defence won’t present evidence at trial of Alberta man accused of killing Abbotsford student

However, Crown prosecutor Rob Macgowan argued in closing arguments earlier this week that Klein faked symptoms of a mental disorder after his arrest in order to be found not criminally responsible.

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He said a defence of intoxication “lacks an air of reality” and that the alcohol Klein may have consumed before the attack was not enough for him to be unaware of the natural consequences of his actions.

The court has previously heard from shelter workers who testified Klein had wanted to return to Edmonton the day of the killing, and had become frustrated that a ticket could not be arranged for him that day.

Click to play video: 'Unnerving video evidence presented at Abbotsford school stabbing trial' Unnerving video evidence presented at Abbotsford school stabbing trial
Unnerving video evidence presented at Abbotsford school stabbing trial – Oct 16, 2019

It heard that a shelter worker had given Klein a map to a public library that is connected to Abbotsford Senior Secondary.

Reimer’s friend, who can not be identified because of a publication ban, described the attack, which left her with wounds to the chest, left shoulder, hand and eye in video testimony.

In an audio statement played to the court, a second student described seeing a man push the friend off her chair and stab her about four times.

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READ MORE: ‘We could feel her pulse fade’: Witnesses recount fatal stabbing at Abbotsford school

The trial was put on hold in November while defence sought a forensic psychiatrist’s mental health assessment of Klein to determine whether he was not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder.

Klein was found mentally fit to stand trial in January.

No evidence or witness testimony was submitted in Klein’s defence.

—With files from Grace Ke and Simon Little 

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