Widow 'heartbroken' after man found not criminally responsible for police officer's death
The widow of Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell says she’s disappointed that the man who struck and killed her husband with a snowplow was found not criminally responsible.
“There is zero closure in a verdict of not criminally responsible,” Christine Russell told reporters outside court Wednesday after a jury reached the verdict in the trial of Richard Kachkar, who was deemed to have been mentally ill when he killed the police officer in 2011.
“I imagine, like most people, that everyone is very disappointed,” said the widow, who cried in court when the verdict was delivered. “I’m heartbroken.”
“I believe that Ryan deserved a lot better than this. He was serving and protecting all of us and he was killed in the line of duty. Nothing changes that. He was killed by this man.
“My family, most likely myself, will have to fight this for the rest of my life,” she said.
Russell, 35, was struck and killed by a stolen snowplow driven by Kachkar in the early morning hours of Jan. 12, 2011. He died after he got out of his cruiser to try to stop the snowplow, which was veering into the path of incoming traffic.
The 11-year veteran of the force was the first Toronto police officer killed in the line of duty since 2002.
The judge said there was no doubt that Kachkar, 46, was the man who stole the plow and hit Russell, but he told jurors they must weigh his mental state at the time.
Kachkar pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder.
During his trial, his defence urged the jury to find Kachkar not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder. During the trial, three high-profile psychologists told the court Kachkar was psychotic at the time he stole the snowplow. One doctor suggested Kachkar may be schizophrenic.
The court heard that Kachkar was yelling about the Taliban, Chinese technology and said “it’s all a Russian video game” while driving around barefoot.
Arguing for a first-degree murder conviction, Crown attorney Christine McGoey told the jury Kachkar may have been mentally ill when he killed Russell, but he was still capable of knowing what he did was wrong.
The judge told the jury not to be concerned with the consequences of their verdict, assuring them that a not criminally responsible verdict would not lead to Kachkar's immediate return to the community.
Following Wednesday’s verdict, Kachkar was remanded in custody for 45 days until the Ontario Review Board decides where he will go next.
People who are deemed not responsible for crimes by way of mental disorderare sent to mental-health facilities for an indeterminate period of time and can be released only when the review board finds they are no longer a significant threat to public safety.
Christine Russell said she is saving her “very personal and very, very emotional statements” for her appearance before the review board “because I really want there to be some justice in this case.”
She said she’s worried about what kind of impact her husband’s death and the jury’s verdict will have on their young son Nolan, who was only two years old when his father was killed.
“There’s no such thing as telling my son…’your dad died, but the man who did this will never hurt you,’” she told reporters. “And my son is very concerned about that.”
She also directly addressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government’s efforts to toughen the rules for releasing people who are found not criminally responsible for a crime.
“I know you are listening,” she said, vowing to advocate for the proposed changes.
Defence lawyer says ‘justice was done’
Kachkar’s defence lawyer, Bob Richardson, told reporters that his client “feels terrible” about what happened.
“He told me that the focus today should be on Sgt. Russell and his family and not him,” he said.
Richardson said Kachkar understands what happened and that he is going to a psychiatric facility as a result. However, he doesn’t understand “how it happened or why it happened,” the lawyer said.
“The reason he doesn’t understand how or why it happened is because three of the best forensic psychiatrists in Canada diagnosed him as being psychotic at the time and suffering from a major illness,” he said.
“I think justice was done.”
Richardson said it’s a misconception that mentally ill people always appear sick. His client has “good days and bad days,” he said.
“What he needs -- and what he will receive -- is treatment.”
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told reporters that he “understands” Wednesday’s verdict and accepts the jury’s judgement. He said his thoughts are with the Russell family.
“We lost a fine officer. It’s a huge tragedy,” he said.
Russell was the son of retired Toronto police officer Glen Russell, who delivered a victim impact statement in court Wednesday, along with other family members.
"You have no idea how much grief and pain you have caused," the father said, addressing Kachkar.
"When you ran my son down with that plow and left him bleeding to death in the snow, a large part of myself died."
With files from Christina Commisso-Georgee and The Canadian Press