The Straight’s report on the Stephen Lowry/Dorle Kneifel case unfortunately gave the wrong impression on several critical points, notwithstanding that Dr. Kneifel has our sympathy for suffering a horrible experience ["Crime and injustice", November 11-18].
We followed the case closely and also attended most of the trial.
The headline in the Straight’s print version was “Crime and injustice”, but there was no injustice. There was a long trial where the onus was on the defence to establish that the defendant was not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, and he was so found. The Crown was given full latitude to argue the opposite, which it did at great length. Stephen Lowry was indeed quite ill at the time of the act in question.
It was equally misleading to say the trial was “controversial” because of contradictory expert testimony, suggesting there was something murky and indefinite in the judge’s findings. Opposing “expert” testimony is quite common in trials–not at all controversial. The judge found, and we agreed, that some of the expert witnesses were more credible than others. Forensic psychiatrist Elizabeth Zoffmann, called by the defence, was knowledgeable, credible, and convincing, and withstood repeated questioning by the Crown.
The headline on the Straight’s front page, “Veiled Justice”, was therefore inappropriate. The trial and the judge’s long written decision demonstrated open and transparent justice.
We ourselves weren’t surprised by the judge’s findings. We knew from our own extensive front-line experience with mental illness, going back 25 years, that Stephen was psychotic at the time he attacked Dr. Kneifel.
Finally, on the Straight’s coverage, the subhead on the front page, “an encounter with evil", was incorrect, being stated as fact rather than being attributed to Dr. Kneifel. The encounter was with somebody who was severely ill. The violence Dr. Kneifel endured was terrible, and may leave psychological scars for a long time to come, but it was a manifestation of severe illness at work, not evil at work.
Something also needs to be said about the mentally ill and violence, about which there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding. The mentally ill are no more violent than the general population, probably a lot less violent”¦.when they receive treatment and stay on their medication.
Untreated mental illness, though, is a different matter. Those with schizophrenia and mania without treatment are more prone to violence. The most likely sufferers of such violence, moreover, are other mentally ill, because of greater proximity and a general vulnerability to victimization–a double whammy for those with the illness. Family members are also more likely to be affected.
Fortunately, treatment does work. The mentally ill who are freed from their psychosis by medication can recover the core of the person they were before they fell ill and function well in society. We advocate for a proactive approach to treatment, especially for the sake of the mentally ill themselves who suffer terrible trauma and have to painstakingly and with enormous difficulty put their lives together again.
Herschel Hardin / President, North Shore Schizophrenia Society