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Mentally ill central Alberta man who killed father not criminally responsible: psychiatrist

Nicholas Johnson killed his father Barry Johnson in Stettler in January 2020

Warning: This story contains graphic details.

A Stettler man was mentally ill and believed he was battling Satan and should not be held criminally responsible for killing his father, a forensic psychiatrist testified in court Tuesday.

“His mental disorder rendered him incapable of appreciating what he was doing was wrong,” said Dr. David Tano, a forensic psychiatrist who assessed Nicholas Climb Johnson.

“He could appreciate it was criminally illegal and not right. However, morally it was a battle for him.”

Johnson, 34, is on trial in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench for second-degree murder, accused of stabbing to death his father Barry Douglas Johnson, 67, in his Stettler home on Jan. 15, 2020.

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The defence has conceded that Johnson killed his father but is arguing that he should not be held criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.

Johnson attacked his father in the early morning of Jan. 15. He stabbed his father 27 times and hit him with a clothes iron and a large rock.

His mother discovered what he had done when she returned home in the early afternoon. Her husband’s body lay under a sheet in the basement.

She called 911 and Stettler RCMP arrived within minutes. Officers found Nicholas at the kitchen table staring blankly, his hands badly cut from the struggle with his father

Tano said he first interviewed Johnson in April 2020 through a video link with the Red Deer Remand Centre. COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for a face-to-face meeting.

He was concerned enough about the psychotic symptoms Johnson showed to have him transported to the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre in Calgary.

Johnson was assessed and continued to exhibit symptoms of psychosis. He had odd delusions, made bizarre connections and exhibited “thought blocking” in which his thoughts were so confused as to be unintelligible.

“He would be quite nonsensical, especially when stressed.”

Johnson appears to have shown his first signs of mental illness in 2014 and perhaps even earlier, he testified.

His mental illness got worse in 2019.

In May that year, he was found wandering naked except for a bag over his genitals. He was taken to Edmonton’s University of Alberta Hospital to be examined.

Johnson blamed the episode on a bad reaction to the drug ecstasy that he had taken the night before and doctors agreed it was likely an episode of drug-induced psychosis.

By January 2020, the symptoms appeared to be getting worse. He was increasingly delusional, believing their was some connection between his father and Satan. In his mind, he felt he would somehow be freed if he killed his father and his father would be proud of him for doing it.

Questioned after the murder, he called a large knife he used as the “sword of truth.”

Despite his mental illness, Johnson appeared to know killing his father would be a crime. He locked the front door of the house, attempted to clean up the crime scene and had emptied a chest freezer, supposedly to hide the body.

The trial before Justice Bruce Millar continues Wednesday.



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