Fitness hearing for accused murderer postponed amid COVID-19 concerns
Published Friday, March 13, 2020 7:17PM ADT
Matthew Vincent Raymond is escorted from Court of Queen's Bench in Fredericton on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
FREDERICTON -- A proposed jury trial to determine whether a Fredericton man accused of four counts of first-degree murder is mentally fit to be tried in court has been put on hold because of COVID-19 health concerns.
Matthew Raymond is accused of killing two police officers and two civilians on Aug. 10, 2018. Donnie Robichaud and Bobbie Lee Wright were killed as they packed their car for a trip, while Fredericton Police constables Robb Costello and Sara Burns were shot when they responded to the scene.
The move to delay his fitness hearing follows a decision Thursday by Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare to suspend jury trials for two months.
Judge Fred Ferguson said it would not have been right to force the 160 potential jurors to have come to the court on Monday.
"It would have been an imprudent situation for us to put the people from this community in the hallways of this building for a long day of jury registration, ordering and jury selection," Ferguson said.
"The most important factor is that none of them would have been here of their own free will and accord. They would have been here because they were under court order to be here," he said.
Last October, a jury found Raymond unfit to stand trial, but since then psychiatrists have said he has responded to medication and could be put on trial. That prompted the courts to schedule a "re-fitness hearing."
However, Raymond told the court Friday that he is refusing to take any medications and wants his case dealt with a soon as possible.
Defence lawyer Nathan Gorham said he's considering a constitutional challenge to allow the fitness hearing to be heard by judge alone, but said he won't decide until next week.
"Fitness waxes and wanes, it comes and it goes, and a person can be fit one day and unfit the next," he said.
"The problem here is that the Criminal Code makes it so that only a jury in a murder case can decide whether a person is fit or unfit. So it would be much more efficient if Parliament would amend the Criminal Code so that judges could decide this on their own without a large jury selection procedure like this," Gorham said.
Fitness to stand trial means an accused understands the charges, the role of the court, and can communicate with their lawyer.
If Gorham decides to make the application, the lawyers will be back in court Tuesday to plot the next steps. Otherwise the case is set to return to court May 4 to set a new date for the re-fitness hearing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.