TORONTO — A small-town woman who became obsessed with a married man and his family to the point of changing her name was convicted of criminal harassment on Thursday in a ruling that also quashed an earlier decision that has seen her spend years in a mental-health institution.
In its ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal sentenced Rita McBride to one year of probation, with conditions that include staying away from the object of her misguided affection.
"The almost six years the appellant has spent in custody far exceeds the range of any sentence the appellant would have received had she pleaded guilty to the charges," the Appeal Court said. "No further incarceration can be justified."
According to court records, McBride, of Ripley, Ont., became enamoured with Mark McBride in about 2000. Although she was married, she said she loved him. He told her he wasn't interested. She persisted. She showed up at his work, left items in his vehicle and on the porch of his home. She scared his wife by peering through a window.
Owned body pillow with man's face on it, legally changed last name to his
In June 2005, Rita McBride pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and prowling by night. She was given probation that barred her from contacting the hapless family for two years. As soon as the probation expired, she phoned them to say she wanted to be the step-mother to their three children, records show.
Numerous other incidents ensued. McBride showed up at the first communion program of one of the children. At some point around 2007, she divorced her husband and, in 2012, legally changed her last name from Boyd to McBride. Associates said she had bought a wedding dress and scouted wedding venues.
A police search turned up a picture of Mark McBride on her bedside table, newspaper clippings about his children, and a body pillow with his picture attached to it, records show.
Ultimately, police charged her with harassing Mark McBride and his wife Donna by behaving in a threatening manner.
In November 2012, Ontario court Judge George Brophy found her guilty of two counts of criminal harassment. Brophy found her name change — from Boyd to McBride — amounted to threatening conduct against the McBrides.
The prosecution then raised the issue of her mental competence, and Brophy accepted psychiatric evidence that she did indeed suffer from "delusional disorder, erotomanic type," and found her not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder in March 2013. McBride has been detained in a mental-health facility since.
She appealed both the guilty verdict and finding of not criminally responsible. Among other things, she argued her name change was not "directed" at the McBrides and therefore not threatening, a position the Appeal Court rejected.
More from HuffPost Canada:
"The appellant and the McBrides lived in the same small community," the Appeal Court said. "In her statement to the police, which was filed as an exhibit at trial, the appellant acknowledged that she knew and intended Mark McBride would learn about her name change."
The higher court noted Rita McBride's unwanted presence on the McBrides' property, her undue and "obsessive" interest in Mark McBride, and her comment about wanting to be step-mother to the children as evidence supporting the harassment verdict.
The Appeal Court, however, rejected Brophy's legal reasoning in reaching the not-criminally responsible conclusion.
"He misdirected his attention to the question of whether the appellant knew her act was wrong instead of focusing on the principal issue of whether the appellant's mental disorder rendered her incapable of knowing her act was wrong," the Appeal Court said. "That amounted to an error of law."
Also on HuffPost: