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UBC student found not criminally responsible for assault due to mental disorder

Keith Fraser

Former University of B.C. student Thamer Hameed Almestadi is pictured in this undated image from his Facebook page.

Former University of B.C. student Thamer Hameed Almestadi is pictured in this undated image from his Facebook page.

A former University of B.C. student who violently attacked another student in her university dorm has been found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

At trial, Thamer Almestadi, 19, pleaded not guilty to the October 2016 attempted murder of Mary Hare in the victim's room at the Salish House student residence. He also pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

The accused, an international student from Saudi Arabia, admitted in his testimony that Hare's description of the attack was accurate and that he had committed the assault, but argued that at the time of the assault he was suffering from a mental disorder.

In a ruling released Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Margot Fleming said that there was no question that Almestadi had suffered a brief psychotic episode at the time of the incident and that the episode amounted to a mental disorder under the law.

"It's also clear to me that Mr. Almestadi's brief psychotic disorder rendered him incapable of knowing his attempt to kill Ms. Hare was morally wrong."

Almestadi, wearing a grey suit and shirt and sitting in the prisoner's dock, said: "Thank you, your honour."

Court heard that in the weeks before the assault, Almestadi was growing increasingly distressed about his inability to study and keep up with his course work. He began sleeping odd hours and skipping classes. He spoke to his family, who found him depressed and homesick, and urged him to speak to someone at the university.

Almestadi, who prior to his attendance at UBC had not suffered any mental disorders and had no record of violence, talked to other students, telling them he was falling behind and thought he might need to see a counsellor.

He told a student-residence adviser that he felt people were watching him and that he was thinking of stopping his studies. The adviser recommended he seek counselling.

Almestadi attended the UBC hospital and tried to set up an appointment, but the first available appointment was sometime off.

The night before the attack, the accused stayed up late studying and the next day attended a math class, where he struggled to concentrate and felt that the math professor was sending him a message, as if interpreting his mood. He believed that the professor made a comment about Godzilla that may have been directed at him.

He suffered other delusions when he ran into several other people after the class and became confused, and went back to his room.

In an attempt to calm himself, Almestadi, who is Muslim, listened to an audio-recording of a passage of the Qur'an and came to believe that God was sending him a message to kill Hare, who he had only met once before briefly outside the student residence and otherwise felt no animosity toward her.

Almestadi picked up a steak knife he had in his room and went outside to look for Hare. When he couldn't find her, he eventually returned to the student residence, where they both lived and found Hare's room, which had her name on the door.

After Almestadi knocked on the door, Hare opened the door, only to have the accused lunge at her with a knife. Almestadi slashed her throat with the knife, inflicting three wounds, one of them 12.5-centimetres long.

Hare, who was terrified and screaming, fought back and grabbed at the knife, breaking the knife and holding the blade in her hand. Almestadi then began choking her and she began to lose consciousness during the struggle. Several other students rushed to help her and eventually she managed to extricate herself from him and flee. She was later treated in hospital.

Outside court, Crown counsel Daniel Porte noted that the judgment of not-criminal responsibility was supported by both the Crown and defence. He said Almestadi will now be remanded to a psychiatric hospital and be subject to the B.C. Review Board, which conducts periodic reviews of such cases.

Asked about Almestadi's immigration status, he said it would be up to the Canada Border Service Agency to take whatever steps they deem appropriate. "Often times if a person doesn't have status in Canada, they will be ultimately removed from Canada and returned to whichever their home country is."

kfraser@postmedia.com

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