05/26/2015 08:37 EDT | Updated 05/26/2016 05:59 EDT

Serena Perry Death: Coroner's Inquest Into Young Psychiatric Patient's Death In Final Stage

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - A coroner's inquest jury looking into the death of a psychiatric patient at a hospital in New Brunswick heard instructions Monday from coroner John Evans.

The five-member jury is being asked to decide how Serena Perry died and to make recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The 22-year-old woman was found unresponsive on the floor of the amphitheatre at the Saint John Regional Hospital on Feb. 14, 2012, with a hospital housecoat wrapped loosely around her neck.

Perry was an involuntary patient at the hospital's psychiatric unit and had paranoid schizophrenia.

A male patient was arrested by Saint John police, but later released without being charged.

Pathologists were not able to confirm Perry's cause of death, but the probable cause was deemed to be asphyxia as a result of neck compression.

Before the jury began its deliberations, Evans told jurors an inquest is not a trial and they are not to make any comment about possible criminal activity by any individual.

The young male psychiatric patient who was seen with Perry the night she died and was considered a suspect said he left her in the amphitheatre after she started talking about an alien that was following her.

The young man — whose name is protected by a publication ban — didn't appear before the inquest on Monday but a statement from him was read into the record.

The inquest heard earlier that the young man had told nurses he had been with Perry in the amphitheatre but left because she was acting strange.

He was issued a summons to appear at the inquest but declined because of his mental health issues. He is in another province and the coroner doesn't have the power to force him to comply.

However, Const. Stephen Davidson of the Saint John Police Force read the statement from the man.

In it, he says he was with Perry in the amphitheatre but left after she was talking about an alien that was following her. He recalled Perry saying, "Tonight's the night. It's coming tonight."

He wrote that as he was leaving, Perry held onto the sleeve of his housecoat and he slipped out of it, leaving it with her.

Davidson, the lead investigator in the case, told the court that DNA samples were taken and while the young man's DNA was found on the housecoat, it was not found anywhere on Perry.

He said he and other police officers tried tying a similar hospital housecoat around their own necks. While they were able to get it tight, Davidson said they could not get it tight enough to choke themselves or even pass out.

On Monday, the Horizon Health district said a number of changes have already been made in its operations, including the use more security cameras and improved monitoring of patients coming and going from the psychiatric unit.

Horizon Health and a number of witnesses have recommended the introduction of community treatment orders, which force a non-hospitalized psychiatric patient to take their medication and accept other treatment. New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories are the only jurisdictions in the country without such orders.

A doctor who treated Perry said she did well when she was on medication in hospital and would often talk about getting more education and a job. But within days of being released from hospital, Dr. Vinod Joshi said Perry would often stop taking her medication and sometimes smoke marijuana.

Many mental health patients refuse to take their medication once they are released from hospital, Joshi said.

Evans told the jury that if the province were to legislate community treatment orders, perhaps it could be called "Serena's law."

"She might well be alive today if this was in place. That's pure speculation," he said.


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