Janice Johnston

Published: March 14, 2022



A Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., man admits that he killed his one-year-old son in November 2019, but a jury has been told that it happened while the man was in an automaton-like sleep state.

Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench Justice John Henderson has imposed a publication ban on the names of the infant and his sister. The girl, five years old at the time, was allegedly assaulted by her father.

CBC News is not identifying the accused because that could lead to revealing the children’s identities.

The 33-year-old father is charged with second-degree murder and assault. He pleaded not guilty to both counts on Monday morning.

In his opening address, defence lawyer Rory Ziv told the jury that at the time of the killing, his client — a framer by trade — was coping with money troubles and sleep problems.

“He was dead broke,” Ziv said. “He had debilitating back pain. He couldn’t work.”

Ziv said the accused saw doctors 28 times between March 2016 and November 2019 for sleep-related problems. He was self-medicating with opioids.

Two days before the infant’s death, Ziv said his client stopped taking his medication on the advice of a doctor.

“One awful day in November 2019 he took a nap,” Ziv said. “And in the course of that nap, he killed [his son].”

The lawyer told the jury that the father’s sleeping problems caused him to act without being aware of what he was doing.

He was “acting in an involuntary manner or acting like an automaton,” Ziv said.

“He certainly did not know what he was doing was wrong,” Ziv said. “This was a man, a loving partner, who never before that day had ever used any physical violence on his children. Not even a spanking.”

The lawyer told the jury that his client did not have a motive to kill his son.

“He has no memory of that fateful event,” Ziv said. “[He] can’t remember because he wasn’t sufficiently conscious to appreciate these acts.”

A world-renowned sleep expert will testify during the trial, Ziv said.

Sister spoke to RCMP officer

The Crown told the jury that the little girl who was allegedly assaulted by her father will testify during the six-week trial.

“He awoke in a state of anger and while in that state, he killed his son as a result of blunt force,” prosecutor Sandra Christensen-Moore said. “He also struck his daughter.”

The RCMP officer who arrested the father told the jury about a short discussion she had with the accused’s daughter at the family’s townhouse.

“She was scared and had been crying,” Cpl. Jennifer Brown testified. “Her face was red.”

The girl told the officer that her daddy had “a fight” with the baby.

The jury also heard from the RCMP officer who rode in the ambulance with the infant as a paramedic performed chest compressions during part of the short trip to the hospital.

“His lips were dark blue and swollen,” Const. Raelene Doyle said. “His eye was also dark blue and swollen. He had some blue discolouration on his face and his head.”

Doyle said the infant was rushed into the trauma room at the Fort Saskatchewan hospital, and soon after, a doctor pronounced him dead.

When the infant’s mother arrived at the hospital, Doyle took her statement. She had been working a split shift as a waitress when her son was hurt. The accused had been alone with the children.

“She was quite distraught,” Doyle testified. “She was crying and she was very upset about the situation and what had happened.”

The jury was shown photos of the infant taken at hospital. The judge had warned jury members they might find the photos disturbing.

Afterward, members of the jury requested a break.

The trial continues.

c. CBC