Psychiatrist testifies that senior in murder trial has dementia and delusions, and is not criminally responsible

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Peter Brooks, 76, is on trial for first degree murder after he beat Joycelyn Dickson, 72, to death in her bed with his cane. Dickson was a fellow resident at the Wexford long-term care facility in Scarborough. Brooks is also charged with attempted murder, for attacking a second resident, Lourdes Missier, 91, on the same night.

On the evening of March 13, 2013, Brooks entered Missier’s and attacked her with his cane, leaving her with injuries to her hands and face. Brooks then went upstairs and killed Dickson, who was partially paralyzed, by hitting her in the head at least seven times while she slept in her bed.

Brooks pled not guilty to the charges at his first trial date, where he appeared in a wheelchair and required an assistive listening device in order to hear the proceedings. A forensic psychiatrist retained by Brooks’ defence lawyers has since testified that at the time of the incident, Brooks was suffering from dementia and delusions and should be found not criminally responsible.

History of Animosity

The jury previously heard of a history of animosity between Brooks and the women over the course of the two years that Brooks lived in the facility.

Missier and Brooks had once lived on the same floor and had been friendly, but their friendship eventually soured after Missier began to share treats she received from her family with residents other than Brooks. Brooks and Dickson once resided on the same floor for a year and had engaged in verbal clashes.

Brooks was moved back to the same floor as Missier days before the attacks occurred. On the day of the attacks, Missier expressed a fear of Brooks and informed staff that she did not want to be on the same floor as him. On the same day,  Dickson told a Wexford employee that she feared that Brooks would kill her.

Dementia and Delusions

Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that Brooks has likely had dementia since 2010, and this has impacted his brain functioning, memory, and inhibitions. In addition, since 2011, Brooks suffered from a strong paranoid delusion that Missier and Dickson were conspiring with staff and management to harass him and get him removed from the facility.

Dr. Gojer testified that

[Brooks] is now suffering (from a mental disorder) and was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of homicide. I can say that with a very strong conviction.

In Dr. Gojer’s opinion, Brooks was so consumed by his delusional behaviour nothing else seemed to matter. Brooks would have been unable to foresee the consequences of his actions, or weigh the pros and cons of his actions (which is a major component of determining criminal responsibility). He pointed to Brooks’ admission to hitting the women when confronted by staff, and the fact that he made no attempt to run away following the attacks.

Dr. Gojer additionally suggested that the attacks had been triggered by Brooks’ fear of being moved within the facility, to the independent wing, and his worries about his ability to care for himself and afford the higher costs of living there. The psychiatrist noted that, in 2010, prior to living at Wexford, Brooks had been found in his apartment, “in a terrible state”, drinking heavily and depressed following the death of his wife. Brooks was initially admitted to hospital, and later transferred to Wexford.  According to Dr. Gojer, there had been no effort by Wexford staff to treat Brooks’ dementia or paranoid delusions.

The psychiatrist testified that:

…Rather than treat his delusion with anti-pyschotic medication they thought about transferring him to another unit…[i]f he was placed in a nursing home again, I guarantee there would be problems. He is not a safe person to be put in a nursing home, he needs to be in a hospital. He needs to be treated.

Dr. Gojer additionally refuted the prosecutor’s suggestion that Brooks was lying or faking his condition, and the allegation that Brooks had to have remembered attacking the women. The psychiatrist testified that Brooks had been tested for signs of “malingering” (i.e- lying) and did not show any signs of it. Additionally, Brooks’ claim that he did not remember the attacks could be explained by the fact that people suffering from dementia are highly susceptible to filling gaps in their memories with information they received from other sources.

Dr. Gojer emphasized that Brooks has no known history of violence and no criminal record prior to moving into the Wexford. He noted that it will be up to the jury to decide:

Is (Brooks) simply an angry old man, a cantankerous disgruntled nursing home resident or is he a person with a delusion acting in a violent manner because he thinks someone is harming him?

We will continue to follow developments in this case and will provide updates as necessary.

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