Globe and Mail

Top court to rule on automaton defence

Monday, May 24, 1999
KIRK MAKIN
Justice Reporter
The Globe and Mail

One day in 1994, Bert Thomas Stone plunged into a near-hypnotic state after hours of his wife's nagging, and when he snapped out of it -- or so Mr. Stone later said -- he found he had stabbed Donna Stone to death.

Mr. Stone disposed of his 36-year-old wife's body at their home in Kelowna, B.C., before fleeing to Mexico. Six weeks later, he realized he must have killed her and returned to Canada.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada will issue a decision in the case. Among its findings will be whether the jury at Mr. Stone's murder trial should have been permitted to consider all of his exotic defence of "automatism," rather than a truncated version the trial judge delivered to the jury.

At the conclusion of Mr. Stone's trial, the Vancouver jury was told that if they believed Mr. Stone had been in a state of wakeful unconsciousness, they could find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

The trial judge prevented jurors from considering the possibility that Mr. Stone was actually sane when he went into a dissociative state and grabbed his knife that day.

On Oct. 6, 1995, they convicted him of a reduced charge of manslaughter.

Evidence at the trial revealed that the killing took place in a parking lot in Burnaby after an acrimonious day in the Stone family. The defence claimed that Ms. Stone insisted on accompanying her husband to visit his children from a previous marriage.

She allegedly berated him all the way there. When Mr. Stone cut the visit short, his wife continued her complaints all the way to Vancouver from Kelowna.

Mr. Stone testified that after he drove into the parking lot, he silently bemoaned the fact that he and his children had to put up with her constant abuse.

Suddenly, he said, a "whooshing" feeling came over him. When he recovered several minutes later, his wife was dead from stab wounds.

Mr. Stone stowed her body in a toolbox in his pickup truck, drove back to Kelowna to leave the vehicle in his driveway, and then fled to Mexico. His lawyer, Derek Brindle, maintained that his subsequent return helped authenticate Mr. Stone's story that he didn't realize he had killed his wife and was determined to come clean once he did.

Crown counsel Gil McKinnon also raised several other important legal issues during the Supreme Court appeal, including:

Whether the defence in a criminal trial should be obliged to disclose expert psychiatric evidence prior to the accused testifying;

Whether it is proper for manslaughter sentences in domestic killings to result in sentences that rarely rise above eight years.

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