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Vanderhoof man found not criminally responsible for mother's death

Justin James Johnston confined to the forensic psychiatric hospital pending a hearing before a review board

A Vanderhoof man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his mother has been found not guilty due to mental disorder.

In a decision issued Sept. 21, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Martha Devlin agreed with a forensic psychiatrist's opinion that Justin James Johnston, 43, was "acutely psychotic" and "suffering from paranoid delusions and disorganized thought processes as a result of his schizophrenia," at the time of the offence.

Johnston's mother, Joy Morris, 62, was found dead in her home on March 10, 2020. Investigators concluded she had died on January 22, 2020, the victim of blunt force trauma.

Two days after her body was found, her son was arrested in Penticton and subsequently detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. Johnson was formally charged on April 10, 2020.

Much of Devlin's decision was devoted to testimony from the psychiatrist, who testified that Johnston was diagnosed in his early 20s with schizophrenia, described as a "chronic psychotic disorder that manifests itself in psychosis and can include auditory hallucinations, delusions and paranoia."

His state led to a history of run-ins with the law. In February 1999, when he was 21 years old, he assaulted his then wife. He was found not criminally responsible for reason of mental disorder and, in May 2001, was issued an absolute discharge from the forensic psychiatric hospital.

After his release, there were "numerous incidents" related to his schizophrenia and non-compliance with medications that led to interactions with the police.

In November 2017, at age 40, Johnston was charged with various offences, including causing a disturbance and assaulting a police officer. He was remanded to the hospital for an evaluation and found to be acutely psychotic at the material time, although the counts were eventually resolved without a finding of being not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

Prior to the most-recent incident, Johnston had been non‑compliant with his medications and the psychiatrist concluded he was very likely acutely  psychotic at the time.

In fact, even while receiving medication at the hospital following his arrest, he remained "delusional, paranoid, and had immense poverty of thought and speech."

"Unmedicated, Mr. Johnston would become more paranoid," Devlin says. "His aggressive acts are triggered by his paranoid delusions. In his psychotic state, Mr. Johnston cannot gauge reality as his perceptions are severely impaired."

In reaching her finding, Devlin ordered Johnston confined to the hospital pending a hearing before a review board. The hearing must be held within 45 days of the verdict.