Thursday, May 6, 2010
Accused charged with 2nd degree murder, has history of mental illness
The man accused of killing 80-year-old Ralph Larson of Selkirk during a weekend home invasion is a schizophrenic who was previously warned by a judge to stay on his medication after assaulting Larson's neighbour, the Free Press has learned.
Friends and neighbours of Larson wonder how a man with a history of sudden outbursts and lapsing treatment could wind up accused in a homicide. They also question the effectiveness of his community rehabilitation.
Ryan Otte, 33, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Larson. Neighbours found him beaten and bloodied in his home on Sunday morning. He died in hospital on Monday.
Justice officials expressed concern about Otte during a 2006 sentencing hearing for an incident that happened in 2000. Otte had been staying in crisis stabilization in Selkirk when he asked his father-in-law, Grant Settee, to visit him. When Settee -- who was Larson's neighbour -- arrived, Otte rushed at him and repeatedly punched him in the face, court documents reveal.
Settee suffered cuts and bruises to his face. Otte was charged with assault causing bodily harm and was sent to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre for treatment and therapy. He was eventually released and moved to British Columbia to live with family members, court was told.
Otte failed to show up in court and a warrant was issued for his arrest. It wasn't executed by police until Otte returned to Manitoba several years later.
Otte later pleaded guilty to the incident but claimed he was a changed man.
"At the time (of the attack) he wasn't following his treatment regime. But he's become stabilized now," defence lawyer Chris Sigurdson told court in 2006. "He is seeing a doctor, things seem to be much improved. He wants to put this behind him. He's tired of being on the run, he was just scared what was going to happen to him."
Provincial court Judge Ken Champagne praised Otte's progress, but offered a caveat. "You haven't become re-involved in any further assaultive behaviour or substantive criminal behaviour, and that's to your credit. I also appreciate you have some mental health problems, and that you're dealing with them and now stable," Champagne told Otte at the time. "It is very important you maintain your medication. That helps keep you out of trouble."
Otte was given a two-year suspended sentence and probation as part of a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers. He was ordered to stay away from his victim and not possess any weapons.
Settee declined to comment on Wednesday, citing the ongoing police investigation. Selkirk Mental Health Centre officials were also unable to comment.
Neighbours say Otte didn't always stick to his treatment plan and may have had a previous altercation with Larson.
"He's been going on and off his meds over the years," said one neighbour, who asked to remain anonymous.
"And when he goes off his meds, he gets in these problem situations. He did assault Mr. Larson at one point in time before -- I guess it wasn't a real brutal assault, it was just something minor. I guess it was let slide, I'm not sure."
RCMP confirmed Larson and Otte knew each other, though they did not say how. Larson's home is located close to Otte's former father-in-law's home in Selkirk, and one neighbour said that Otte often worked odd jobs for Larson.
"People are taking it pretty hard because it's not something that happens here in Selkirk, especially not something this vicious," neighbour Brad Stefanson added.
First of all, I dont think the accused should have been charged with second degree murder in the first place. The element of intent, in my opinion, is missing, because when he allegedly went in the house to do the home invasion and beat the man, he didn't die right away. To me, that is manslaughter, not second degree murder. And if it is determined at his trial that he suffered from mental illness during the time of the incident, I feel he should definitely be found not criminally responsible. People with mental illnesses do not respond the same way to prison and it can often worsen their conditions, making them more dangerous when released.