Crown counsel has no interest in incarcerating a 95-year-old Vernon man suspected of murder.
However, Howard Pontious said Wednesday his office had few options but to charge the man with murder after he allegedly assaulted his 85-year-old roommate in a two-bed room at Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s Polson residential care facility Sunday at around 11 p.m.
The man who died was identified by family Thursday as William George May, 85, a longtime Vernon resident.
Polson, operated by Interior Health, is a 26-bed secured dementia unit that provides care for people whose illness is complicated by behavioural or psychiatric issues.
John Furman, a decorated Second World War veteran, was charged with murder on Monday. He has been sent to a Kamloops psychiatric facility for an assessment.
“We really had little choice even though we’re aware of his difficult medical circumstances,” said Pontious outside of Vernon Provincial Court, where Furman’s next court date was scheduled for Sept. 25.
“There’s a procedure in the (Criminal) Code and the procedure is to prove the facts. If we have a medical report that supports the suspect is not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, we’d be in a position to send the accused to the provincial review board to address the main concern in this case, and that is the risk he poses to other people.
“Unlike most murder cases, we’re not looking at punishment or retribution.”
Pontious said Furman has already been declared certified under the Mental Health Act as a person incapable of looking after himself because of his mental disfunction.
It was Pontious’ understanding that Furman had been living on his own with assistance until recently, when it was determined he needed full-time care.
While some suspects can be decertified after receiving treatment, Pontious feels that won’t be the case with Furman.
Pontious said it may become unnecessary to pursue a murder charge if Furman’s situation “is being dealt with adequately by the mental health system.”
“There has to be a reason for pursuing the charge,” he said. “The man’s 95, he’s frail, he’s mentally challenged. Do I need to send him to the review board? If it’s already being addressed, I’m not out to punish him. What would be gained by pursuing the charge?”
Pontious said he can’t arbitrarily stay the murder charge, but would discuss the matter with his superiors once the assessment report is completed.
Furman does not yet have a lawyer as the person or persons responsible for his power of attorney are out of the country. As of Wednesday, they had not been contacted.
Asked what he knew about the accused, Pontious said Furman is a distinguished veteran who has an excellent record with no history of violence, “until he got Alzheimer’s disease.”
Pontious told Judge Jim Threlfall that Furman was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.
IH confirmed there was no record of any altercation between the suspect and victim, though they had only been roommates for four days prior to the assault.
Like the RCMP, Pontious called the case “sad,” and something he’s never had to deal with in 36 years as a lawyer.
“I’ve never been in position to have to prosecute somebody like this,” said Pontious.
“It’s a sad situation. When you don’t see any culpability, somebody whose legacy is going to be tarnished, it’s harsh. Another person lost his life. It’s sad all the way around.”
In an e-mail to The Morning Star, communications officer Lannea Parfitt said IH, “has educated staff on how to identify and respond to aggressive behaviours, including tools for identification of triggers and de-escalation.”
All residents, she said, are regularly checked for behavioural changes, and care plans are then adjusted accordingly which includes monitoring to ensure residents are receiving the right care at the right time.
“Staff also consult with specialized resources such as geriatric psychiatrists and clinical consultants for challenging behaviours, to ensure that residents’ care needs are being met,” said Parfitt.