The veteran Vancouver lawyer interrupted skiing with his family to answer yet another media inquiry about a notorious client, Allan Schoenborn, now eligible for possibly weeks-long freedom.
“We’re actually in Whistler together right now!” quipped Rishi Gill. “He’s a surprisingly good moguls skier!”
Of course, the 54-year-old Schoenborn was not at the resort.
The black humour was Gill’s way of handling the many people — including some doctors, police officers, prosecutors, judges and journalists — who think mental illness should be treated compassionately until a delusional person runs amok and appears to use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“You will never get the public to get past the horrific nature of the offence,” Gill insisted. “That’s kind of understandable. The big problem is what goes on in the justice system to deal with it fairly. It could have easily gone far worse for him. This was a really special case. It’s not indicative of what normally happens.”
With a mugshot alone that would scare MMA champ Conor McGregor, the-hell-he-isn’t-guilty-and-should-be-in-prison outrage over Schoenborn remains palpable 14 years after his cognitive dysfunction turned violent.
In April 2008, he butchered his daughter and smothered his two sons in the family’s trailer home in Merritt. He fled, eluding a dragnet for 10 days before emerging from the wilderness disheveled and incoherent.
He said he believed his kids — Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8, and Corden, 5, — were being sexually abused, and he was saving them.
“On the day he was arrested,” Gill recalled, “he was emaciated, he had chopped up his wrists right to the bone. The cop said, ‘If he doesn’t have to be admitted, we’ll interrogate him.’ So the doctors said he didn’t need to be admitted, that he was fine. I was furious. I was so frustrated at how hard we had to fight for the guy.”
Prosecutors insisted Schoenborn’s explanation was nonsense and that he intended to hurt his wife, Darcie Clarke, who was shattered by the slayings and, on May 30, 2019, died of a heart ailment.
On Feb. 22, 2010, however, Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible on three counts of first-degree murder and ordered indefinitely confined to medical care with a yearly review.
Since then, he has been at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam.
Born in Winnipeg, the second of three kids, Schoenborn developed alcohol and drug addictions and exhibited signs of mental illness by 19.
After dropping out of Grade 10, his life was one of substance abuse and petty crime until 1993, when he met his wife.
While he settled down, he couldn’t maintain a stable relationship. Schoenborn soon developed paranoid delusions that Clarke was cheating on him and that their children were fathered by another man.
Before the slayings, he was estranged from her, homeless and hearing voices. He was in the midst of a divorce and had lost his job because of his mental instability. His world had collapsed.
Schoenborn now has had counselling for substance use, completed a “social communications skills” course and taken cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis.
“He has been getting treatment. He is better than he was even three or four years ago,” stressed Gill, a junior at Schoenborn’s trial to retired lawyer Peter Wilson who won the not criminally responsible verdict.
Two years ago, doctors thought he should remain detained but was ready for some freedom — unescorted day passes at the hospital director’s discretion for sports, lattes at Starbucks, and such.
Schoenborn has been on scores of outings since from the Coquitlam institution — visits with his mother, trips to parks, restaurants and shops, unescorted leaves to attend employment training in Surrey — all without incident.
In reconsidering the risks of giving him more freedom, the most recent three-person B.C. Review Board panel decided that he had progressed as a result, but not enough.
“All parties agree that Mr. Schoenborn continues to constitute a significant threat to the safety of the public, and the panel has no hesitation in making this finding,” it concluded. “There is no issue amongst the parties that the necessary and appropriate disposition in this case is a custody order. We agree. There is no discharge plan in place which would allow Mr. Schoenborn to reside in the community.”
Still, while he must remain confined for at least another year, the panel decided longer overnight visits, of up to 28 days, would assist with his reintegration into society.
For many, including Clarke’s family, this case proves the system is broken and the law needs to be changed.
Gill completely disagrees: “It is an example of what the law is for and how it should work. It was a savage crime. He’s not a sympathetic character. It could and usually goes the other way.”
The panel noted Schoenborn’s psychotic illness “has been in remission for many years and … is fully controlled through an injectable form of long-acting antipsychotic medication” that, even if he were to stop taking it, it would be many months before his psychosis would re-emerge.
He has a long way to go, Gill emphasized.
“But it was the right result and it is the way the system is supposed to work. It pushed the system to the edge, but this shows how these people should be treated. This could easily have ended up with him in prison for the rest of his life. … If he ever does get released, I don’t think the public will ever hear of him again.”
B.C. Review Board considers hospital discretion over Allan Schoenborn community leave
Hospital director granted discretion in potential overnight leave for Allan Schoenborn
More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through The Vancouver Sun or The Province.