Mental illness drove Kellie Johnson to kill her five-year-old son, a forensic psychiatrist testified as Johnson’s trial continued Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder.
According to an agreed statement of facts presented earlier in the trial, Johnson stabbed her five-year-old son, Jonathan Vetter, several times in the neck while the boy was sleeping in January 2014.
On Tuesday, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela was called on to testify. Mela interviewed Johnson after she killed her son.
Defence lawyer Leslie Sullivan began by having Mela outline what he knew of Johnson’s mental health before he spoke to her.
Mela explained Johnson began having problems in 2006. He said she started hearing voices and, in particular, seeing a hallucination of a character she called The Woman — a powerful figure that would often give her orders.
Mela said Johnson was hospitalized several times in the years leading up to her son’s death, sometimes voluntarily, and other times she was put into a mental health facility against her will.
He said other doctors diagnosed her as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Mela said he also diagnosed Johnson with those conditions after analyzing her.
The psychiatrist said the events leading up to Jonathan Vetter’s death began years earlier; Johnson believed The Woman told her that her ex-boyfriend was molesting her older child, who can’t be named due to a publication ban.
Johnson took the matter to police, and her ex passed a polygraph test. Ultimately, investigators found nothing to substantiate the claims.
But Johnson couldn’t be persuaded that it wasn’t true, according to Mela.
He said she ended the relationship and went to social services, which referred her to a hospital. Mela testified Johnson also brought the matter up with family members, who didn’t believe her.
Mela said Johnson eventually went to her ex’s home, believing The Woman wanted her to kill him. Mela said Johnson couldn’t go through with it, but police were called and she was hospitalized again.
Mela said Johnson eventually came to believe The Woman was going to kill her, leaving Vetter in the care of her ex.
He said Johnson believed her ex would molest Vetter, turn the boy into a child molester and that he’d then end up in hell. Mela testified Johnson bought a knife and hid it in her home, believing she’d have to kill Vetter in order to send him to heaven and prevent his soul from going to hell.
Mela said the night Johnson killed Vetter, her symptoms got worse as she was sitting at a computer.
The psychiatrist said it’s common for schizophrenia to get worse when a sufferer is alone and their attention is focused. Mela testified Johnson believed her death at the hands of The Woman was imminent when she killed Vetter.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, two criteria need to be met to find someone not criminally responsible. First, the presence of a mental illness has to be established. Second, it has to be proven a person’s mental condition prevented them from appreciating the nature or quality of their actions, or made them unable to determine their actions were wrong.
Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Brian Hendrickson, Mela testified that, in his opinion, Johnson knew killing her son was illegal, and an average person would see it as morally wrong.
While he said killing Vetter was likely a difficult choice for her, Mela testified that within the framework of her hallucinations, she felt it was moral to kill the boy in order to spare him from an eternity in hell.
Mela quoted a statement Johnson made during their interview, saying she told him she didn’t want to kill her son, but did it because she felt she had to save him.
Johnson will be back in court Wednesday.