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Lillooet man was not in a disassociated state when he killed his drug dealer: Jury

April 21, 2017 - 4:20 PM

KAMLOOPS - It took six men and six women less than three hours to agree that Jeffery Harris meant to kill his drug dealer when he stabbed him numerous times two years ago.

There was no doubt Harris killed 61-year-old Gary Mandseth in February 2015, but jurors had to decide whether Harris was in control of his actions at the time of Mandseth's murder.

The jury found Harris guilty of second degree murder and told Supreme Court judge Stephen Kelleher they were not recommending a period of parole ineligibility.

A second degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence with no parole eligibility for at least 10 years and no more than 25 years. It will be up to Kelleher to decide how long Harris must spend behind bars before being eligible for parole.

Lawyers are expected to meet next month to fix a date for sentencing.

Over the past three weeks, jurors have filed into the same Kamloops Supreme Court room to hear evidence and witnesses called by both defence and Crown lawyers on the case.

Defence lawyer Donna Turko urged the jury to acquit Harris, using the defence of automatism. A psychologist called to the stand by Turko told the court earlier this week that automatism is an extreme form of the body protecting itself.

Dr. Peggy Koopman testified that Harris' mind disassociated from his body after he was injected with intravenous cocaine when he believed he was about to use heroin.

Court heard Harris was terrified after feeling the effects of the drug and to a loss of control over his actions. Turko said in closing arguments that this means he couldn't have had conscious control over his actions.

"When we go into fight or flight, we're not really thinking," Turko said. "People do snap, and the law recognizes that."

Turko said Harris was so out of it that he couldn't have formed intent for anything, let alone murder. 

During pathologist Dr. James Stephen's testimony, he referred to wounds on Mandseth's body which appeared to have come from a screwdriver or something similar. But Turko submitted that the markings bore resemblance to the handle of Harris' pocket knife.

"Is it that Mr. Harris was so out of it... he's stabbing with the wrong end of the knife?" Turko asked.

But jurors didn't accept that defence. If they found that he was even intoxicated at the time of the offence the conviction could have been downgraded to manslaughter.

They sided with Crown prosecutor Chris Balison, who argued Harris was not giving credible evidence when he testified at trial.

"It's not believable and it does lack any common sense," Balison said. "Mr. Harris committed the second degree murder of Mr. Mandseth."

Balison argued that Harris was an entrenched addict who would do anything to get his next fix. During trial he had called an eyewitness to the attack against Mandseth, Jennifer Saelens, who lived above Mandseth's basement suite.

On the witness stand, she recalled hearing Harris tell her during the attack "he killed me, so I'm going to kill him." She took that to be referring to Mandseth cutting Harris off from drugs.

"The accused is a heroin addict chasing that next high, and in this case it was fatal for Gary," Balison said.

For more coverage on this trial, go here.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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