NEWS

Man found not criminally responsible in fatal jail cell stomping

03/12/2013 11:47 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT
The 27-year-old man charged with second-degree murder after another man was stomped to death at the Edmonton Remand Centre has been found not criminally responsible.

Justin Somers, a diagnosed schizophrenic from Fort McMurray, Alta., was placed in a cell with Barry Stewart in May 2011.

Stewart, 59, was serving a two-day sentence for failing to pay fines for riding on the LRT without paying a fare and jaywalking. Somers was in jail for drinking, which breached bail conditions on unrelated charges.

“He was there for fines. He lost his life over fines,” said Stewart's niece, Melissa Carson, outside the courthouse Tuesday.

When Somers arrived at the remand centre in 2011, he was interviewed by a nurse who warned that he displayed "paranoid delusional behavior," was a danger to other prisoners and should be placed in the mental health unit, according to an agreed statement of facts.

A psychologist also met with Somers, recommending it would be inappropriate to put Somers in with the general population, even temporarily.

However no beds were available and Somers was placed in a holding cell — an empty room containing only a bench — with Stewart.

"He was a piece of meat being thrown into a lion’s cage. He had no choice about it at all,” said Carson.

The cell was near the guards' office and under video surveillance.

All was quiet for about 12 hours as Stewart slept on the floor covered by a blanket.

The surveillance camera shows Somers pacing, then suddenly hopping up on a bench and jumping on Stewart's head with both feet.

Stewart never stirs as Somers continues the attack for eight minutes, striking him 25 times and leaving blood-stained footprints across the cell.

It takes staff three more minutes to respond.

Hours later, Somers told an Edmonton homicide detective he thought his fellow inmate had a green stench and was eating heads.

Carson says the family is devastated by the death of Stewart, who she described as a generous, timid man.

She wants to know why guards at the remand centre put Somers in her uncle's cell, despite the warnings from those who had interviewed the man.

Carson also says guards took far too long to respond to the attack when it did happen.

“I think the guards that put him in there should be on trial.”

During the hearing Court of Queen's Bench Justice Brian Burrows noted that there were some concerns arising out of the evidence given, but added the only issue before the court was if Somers was legally responsible for his behaviour.

"The circumstances clearly give rise to many troubling issues", he said.

The province will hold a fatality inquiry into Stewart's death.

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