by Pa Rock
Last summer I wrote a couple of postings about a horrendous crime that took place in a Greyhound bus out on the Canadian prairie. It was late at night and most of the passengers were asleep or watching a movie when the evening’s calm was suddenly interrupted by screams from Tim McLean, a young carnival worker who was sitting in the rear of the bus. It quickly became evident that McLean was being stabbed repeatedly by his seatmate, a Chinese immigrant by the name of Vince Li. The driver managed to get the bus off of the road as the panicked passengers rushed for the door. They assembled along the side of the road waiting on help, while inside the bus Li severed the head of his victim and chewed on his bloody flesh.
This past week the case went to trial. It lasted two days, and only two witnesses testified. Both were psychiatrists. Not surprisingly, the defendant was adjudged to be “not criminally responsible due to mental illness.” Also not surprisingly, many are angry over that decision, and the victim’s mother is damned angry.
The insanity defense and subsequent verdict were almost foregone conclusions. How could a sane person hack off a fellow human being’s head and munch on his flesh? Even without the expert testimony from psychiatrists, how could any rational person come to a conclusion other than insanity? There was no history between these men – they were literally strangers on a bus who happened to be sitting next to one another.
Li, according to the psychiatrists, is schizophrenic. He believed that God wanted him to kill his fellow passenger because McLean was a force of evil. God told him to do it. Li cut his victim’s body into many pieces, stuffed some into plastic bags, and put McLean’s ear, nose, and tongue in his pocket. He did not want the murdered man to be able to come back and wreak revenge on him.
The anger regarding the verdict was also predictable. Family members and friends of the young victim have suffered a loss that is very real. Someone they knew well was removed from them – forever – in a manner so bizarre and gruesome that the method of the death became more of a story than the death itself. They want justice, but in a situation where justice is impossible, they will settle for vengeance. And an indeterminate period of confinement in a mental facility doesn’t mitigate their desire for justice or vengeance, it only makes them angrier.
Vince Li will have his mental status reviewed every year. There may come a day, after years of quality mental treatment, when he is determined to have regained his mental health. When and if that day comes, Vince Li will be released back into society.
The fairness of what transpired in court can be argued logically and passionately by supporters of the verdict and by those who believe it was a miscarriage of justice. Was it Vince Li who killed the young man on the bus, or was it some evil demon inhabiting his body? Should he be killed, jailed, exorcised, or hospitalized and treated? The judge chose the most humane response and passed this problem on to mental health providers. If they do their job properly, Vince Li may yet be able to contribute something of benefit to society. But if this sentence generates a bad outcome, society will be weakened by an onslaught of rabid demands for codified vengeance.