HALIFAX – A mentally ill Nova Scotia man who killed his mother and two grandparents in 2015 has been granted unescorted day passes from a secure hospital, despite family pleas that he wasn’t ready for more freedom.
A team of mental health professionals told the Criminal Code Review Board Tuesday that Codey Hennigar, 33, should be granted more freedoms, having shown no signs of violence or psychotic symptoms.
Dr. Scott Theriault said Hennigar had completed all programming at the East Coast Forensic Hospital and was able to handle escorted trips into the community.
But Hennigar’s younger brother, Chandler, told the board he didn’t think it was right to give such privileges to someone who killed his family just three years ago.
“I still don’t believe that he’s ready,” he said, as his older brother grabbed a tissue and wiped a tear from his eye. “Have you stopped to ask whether or not it’s right? … And what happens if you’re wrong and I’m right?”
Peter Lederman, the board’s chairman, said Hennigar must be given a chance to integrate back into the community, under the hospital’s strict monitoring and control.
“The board’s primary responsibility is public safety. At the same time, we have to allow Mr. Hennigar to progress,” said Lederman. “That means a gradual ability to get back into the community.”
He was granted unescorted day passes, but Lederman stressed that Hennigar still has to work his way up to that level of freedom, likely by first having unescorted access to the hospital grounds.
Theriault told the board that Hennigar — who was diagnosed with schizophrenia — changed medications in October, and since then there have been no deterioration in his mental state or instances of violence. His previous medications were causing side effects including weight gain, so a switch was necessary, he said.
Crown prosecutor Karen Quigley raised concerns about what would happen if Hennigar did not take his medication, but the hearing was assured he would not be permitted to leave the hospital.
The hearing was also told that an imminent risk assessment would be conducted weekly, and regular drug tests would also be conducted.
Rev. Dr. Linda Yates, a United Church minister who knew Hennigar’s grandparents, said members of the community were opposed to giving Hennigar more freedoms. She said before the murders, his mental health issues were identified to police and health officials but “nothing happened.”
“They feel very helpless and afraid and have zero confidence in the health or justice system,” she said. “The community is still quite traumatized and still grieving.”
Hennigar’s lawyer, Kelly Rowlett, said he has shown that’s he’s ready for more freedoms, and is remorseful.
“We just wants to be better. He wants to work. He wants to feel useful. He wants to feel healed. He’s devastated and appreciate he’s mourning like everybody else,” said Rowlett outside of the hearing.
“He has to live for the rest of his life knowing, as he gets better and better and more and more stable, what he did in a psychotic state. That’s a very difficult thing to live with.”
Eventually, the unescorted passes will allow Hennigar to leave the hospital for a minimum of three hours and a maximum of 12 hours. His conditions include staying away from Musquodoboit Valley — where many members live — a weapons prohibition, and providing an itinerary and keeping in contact with hospital staff when he does leave.
The Crown said it would provide a long list of family and community members who do not wish to have contact with Hennigar.
Dressed in green dress shirt and jeans, Hennigar sat quietly at the hearing, his hands folded on the table in front of him. He did not speak, but appeared to be paying attention.
Hennigar was arrested in January 2015 after the bodies of his mother and her parents were found following a fire inside a home in Wyses Corner.
He was tried on three counts of second-degree murder and was found not criminally responsible in January 2017 for the killings because of psychotic delusions caused by schizophrenia.
At the time, Crown attorney Mark Heerema said the victims died of a combination of blunt-force injuries to the head and smoke inhalation, and that at least one of the victims was still alive when the fire was set.
A hearing in August 2017 decided that Hennigar would continue to get escorted day passes, but would not be allowed broadened privileges. The board had concluded more time was needed to ensure he was mentally stable.
Follow (at)AlyThomson on Twitter.