Twenty-five-year-old Joel Vassell has been in custody since being arrested on Dec. 11, 2019, and charged with the first-degree murder of his mother, Yvonne Bachelor-Vassell.
On Jan. 5, Madam Justice Maureen Forestell found Vassell not criminally responsible for his mother’s death after a short trial at the Superior Court of Ontario, calling it a “difficult case.”
It was on Dec. 11 at around 9:30 p.m. when some residents who live on Stallion Place in Etobicoke called 911 to report a house fire.
According to an agreed statement of facts read out in court, at around the same time firefighters arrived at Yvonne Bachelor-Vassell’s townhouse and found the badly burned body of a woman Vassell called 911 from Etobicoke General Hospital admitting he had lit the house on fire with his mother inside.
When police arrived at the hospital, Vassell had burns on his hands and officers smelled gasoline. He told a crisis worker that his mother had mentally abused him and starved him for years and that only a mother possessed by the devil could be the cause of such neglect. He told the worker that he set the house on fire to free her soul and admitted he had not taken his medication for two days.
An autopsy found Bachelor-Vassell had been stabbed to death
According to transcripts obtained by Global News, Crown attorney Anna Leggett told the court at the time of the homicide, Vassell was living in Richmond Hill on his own in a small apartment under the auspices of the Ontario Shores outpatient program.
“This is after having been found not criminally responsible with the respect to the stabbing of his mother and grandmother several years earlier,” she said.
In June 2015, Vassel was found not criminally responsible for those offences and the matter was transferred to the Ontario Review Board (ORB). In October 2019, the ORB granted Vassell community living privileges. He attended Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences monthly and met with his psychiatrist and workers followed up with him about once a week. He also provided urine samples for monitoring on a monthly basis.
According to the agreed statement of facts, in the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 2019, just a day prior to killing his mother, Vassell called the crisis hotline at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences where he was an outpatient and asked to be admitted to the hospital. He said he thought he had been poisoned and said he was experiencing paranoid thoughts and delusions. Vassell had a follow-up assessment later that morning with his treating psychiatrist but was not admitted to the hospital.
Dr. Jonathan Gray, a forensic psychiatrist who assessed Joel Vassell, testified that there is evidence that Vassell was suffering from a mental disorder, schizophrenia, at the time that he killed his mother. He also found the symptoms of his mental illness deprived him of the capacity to make a rational choice with respect to the wrongfulness of his actions.
In her decision, Forestell said she was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Vassell was not criminally responsible verdict at the time of his mother’s murder.
“Mr. Vassell believed that he was justified in what he did and that any person in his position would have acted in the same way. His delusions caused him to believe that his life was in danger and his mother was controlling him. He felt that the only way to preserve his life was to kill his mother,” she wrote.
“This is a very tragic case. Ms. Bachelor, from the accounts before me, was a caring person and mother. Mr. Vassell has tragically killed the person who most supported him.”
Joel Vassell is now back under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Review Board.
Priscilla de Villiers, a spokesperson for the victims advocacy group CAVEAT, told Global News that there needs to be a reexamination of the safeguards and the conditions that are put in place when it comes to releasing patients who are found not criminally responsible for violent crimes.
“When you have somebody who is in such danger to the public, the family and themselves, surely there should be red flags, there should be immediate support. This poor person, I feel for him. He’s killed his mother, this is a terrible thing and he asked for help,” she said, adding she hopes a coroner’s inquest will be called into the case to examine what went wrong.
“There needs to personal accountability, hospital accountability, et cetera, but at the end of the day what we really want is that there are changes made in the system as a whole.”
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