A 20-year-old man on trial for murder told psychiatrists the devil instructed him to kill his father so he would have power over the world and could save his family.
Joshua Steel is on trial for killing his father, Phil Steel, on Sept. 12, 2011, in the basement of their Westsyde home. In a quiet voice at the beginning of the trial Wednesday, the small man replied “not guilty” when read the charges.
Both the defence and Crown agree with a psychiatrist’s report. The doctor’s opinion is that Steel did not understand what he did was wrong. Lawyers presented evidence to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Hope Hyslop showing Steel is not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.
The Crown and defence agree Joshua killed his father by bludgeoning him repeatedly on the head with an andiron — a fireplace tool. Acting on commands from voices in his head, he went to the house with the intent of killing the 63-year-old man.
The question the judge must decide is whether Steel understood what he was doing was wrong.
Prosecutor Joel Gold said Steel’s mental problems started in February 2010 as he was neared his 18th birthday. Living at home, he became more quiet and unresponsive. After staying up one night smoking pot, taking ecstasy and playing online video games he told his parents a series of shocking thoughts.
“He described bizarre thoughts about the devil, son of Zeus, guns and harm coming to his family,” Gold said.
Steel’s family took him to the psychiatric ward at Royal Inland Hospital. He was in and out of hospital several times that month. He was eventually diagnosed as suffering from psychotic episodes and given medication. But that treatment stopped after his family took him to the Philippines, his mother’s home country, in the spring of 2011.
Dr. Sam Iskander, the forensic psychiatrist who prepared the report, said Steel reported a “care provider” in the South Pacific country told him he didn’t need to take the medication any longer.
After that, Steel no longer took anti-psychotic medications. He had meetings with child psychologists and mental-health officials through the spring, where he reported occasionally hearing voices and was emotionally distant from his family.
Iskander said those medications would have gone some way to controlling his later psychotic episodes, including the one when he killed his father.
Two days before he killed his father and after a heated argument with his parents, Steel went on a rampage in the neighbourhood, breaking car windows. He was assessed by the Kamloops mental health action response team.
“He knew where he was and thought he was arrested because he was angry at his parents,” Gold said.
He was not taken to hospital.
The morning of the killing, Steel was at his aunt’s house, where his family thought he could take a break. They also wanted him admitted to RIH’s psychiatric ward, where he did not want to go. He was not responsive to his family nor a pastor who was brought to the home to talk to him.
Iskander said Steel later told him he was conversing with the devil at the time. After asking the devil questions in his head, Steel said his limbs would twitch a “yes” or “no” response.
In the days leading to the killing, Steel told psychiatrists the devil “wished Mr. Steel to demonstrate his trustworthiness.
“Mr. Steel believed… if he complied he’d be given power over the world.”
He also believed the devil said if he didn’t kill his father the rest of his family would die slow deaths.
Steel has been provisionally diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder, depressive type. He is on anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications.
The hearing will continues Thursday.