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Friday, March 01, 2013

Dr. testifies Toronto cop killer had 'psychotic disorder



TORONTO -- How difficult it must be for the family of Sgt. Ryan Russell.
In these closing days of a first-degree murder trial, the testimony is all about poor Richard Kachkar and his mental illness, his grandiose schemes and his bizarre behaviour.
The focus has shifted so far from the victim, a married young father of a little boy.
But such is the nature of a case that hinges on the killer's mental state -- and where even the Crown's shrink believes Kachkar was suffering a paranoid psychosis when ran down Russell with a stolen snowplow on Jan. 12, 2011.
The Crown is seeking a conviction for first-degree murder.
But testimony by respected expert Dr. Philip Klassen did much to bolster the defence position that the homeless St. Catharines, Ont., man should be found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.
Klassen said he conducted the court-requested psychiatric examination last fall while Kachkar was a 60-day inpatient at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. He admitted struggling with his assessment because Kachkar, 46, doesn't fit easily into a diagnosis -- there were long periods in his life where he was able to function, including his "reasonably normal" police interview just two weeks after Russell was killed.
But in the end, he concluded Kachkar was "psychotic at the material time" and suffered from "psychotic disorder not otherwise specified or possibly schizophrenic." And he told the jury he believes Kachkar didn't appreciate the nature of what he was doing.
"I'm persuaded there's a legitimate mental disorder," Klassen told defence lawyer Bob Richardson. "I don't see another motive for his behaviour."
The forensic psychiatrist dismissed theories that Kachkar's destructive rampage through the city was a bid for "suicide by cop" or simply the explosion of a disgruntled man with pent-up rage. "I don't find that to be the best fit with everything we know about Richard Kachkar."
Instead, based on interviews, psychological tests and medical records, he painted a portrait of a man with a "low-grade" mental illness -- perhaps a late onset of schizophrenia -- triggered by the death of his father in 2004 and who managed to keep it largely under control except for "psychotic spikes" in the summer of 2010 and most critically, in the two weeks before he struck the police officer.
After speaking to Kachkar as well as his estranged wife, daughter and one of his three sisters, Klassen learned the adopted son of Armenian immigrants never felt he belonged.
While always striving to impress his hard-working parents -- even leaving Edmonton to study architecture in their native land -- he believed they considered him a failure.
Kachkar met his wife while both were university students in Armenia and married her when she became pregnant. She described her husband as a "dreamer" with grandiose plans that never materialized -- including doing work for the Kardashians and buying a Russian submarine that he could convert into a coffee shop.
When Kachkar's dad died, his family said he became convinced he was a special messiah. He also grew paranoid.
One night he woke from a nightmare and slapped his wife, telling her he'd dreamed he was possessed by the devil and that his sister had murdered their father in the hospital.

Kachkar was belligerent at home and increasingly unable to support his family. His wife and two children moved out in 2006. But they still maintained contact.
"She felt badly for him because she thought he was mentally ill," Klassen said.
From there, it was a slow downhill descent toward that snowy January two years ago.Kachkar, reluctant to admit to any mental illness, told Klassen that he began feeling "unwell while staying at a St. Catharines shelter in late December 2011 and fled to Toronto, terrified people were after him. He insists he has no memory of the events that tragic morning, a claim of amnesia Klassen doesn't quite buy.
But even without Kachkar's version, the psychiatrist said the evidence of many others suggests the increasingly fearful and paranoid man was in a desperate race to escape what he believed was an "Armegeddon-like" catastrophe about to happen.Unfortunately, he was right.
But its victim would be an innocent police sergeant just doing his job.

MICHELE MANDEL |
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