Vandenberg found not criminally responsible for murder

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Martin Vandenberg was found not criminally responsible for the murder of his mother Heather Jones at a B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing held in Victoria on Tuesday morning.

Justice Jennifer Power accepted the joint submission made by Crown prosecutor Jim Blazina and defence counsel Tybring Hemphill that Vandenberg was undergoing a psychotic episode brought on by undiagnosed schizophrenia when he beat Jones to death with a baseball bat on Dec. 6, 2017, and he was therefore unable to understand his actions were wrong.

Vandenberg was 22 at the time of the offence and Jones was 47.

With evidence that Vandenberg’s mental health had deteriorated while held at Vancouver Island Correctional Centre following his arrest, Power ordered that he continue to be held at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, where he has been since the spring of 2018. Vandenberg’s case history will be reviewed there within 45 days to determine the length of his confinement and treatment. His appearance at court Tuesday was by video link.

The victim’s mother Betty Jones and two of her sisters, Penny Jones and Tammy Large, were at the sentencing hearing. The family said they felt Vandenberg’s sentencing result was appropriate.

“We’re thankful he’s finally getting the help he needs and deserves,” Large said on behalf of the family. “Heather wanted that.”

“We got to tell him we loved him the last time he was here. That was nice,” she added.

Power based much of her decision on the expert testimony of two forensic psychologists. The court heard a summary of the evidence that proved Vandenberg was experiencing a serious mental disorder for some weeks before the murder took place. He had reported hearing voices that were telling him things he didn’t like. As well, a police report was filed in November 2017 when Vandenberg complained a female friend of his father’s had guns on the property and was threatening him, which was determined to be unfounded.

Vandenberg’s father Martin “Buck” Vandenberg had taken him to the emergency room at Lady Minto Hospital, where they were met by Heather Jones, the day before the murder took place. An appointment for a mental health assessment was booked for Dec. 8. Vandenberg then went home to his mother’s house and killed her sometime in the early hours of Dec. 6.

Betty Jones and her daughter Chelsea discovered the victim’s body, and those of her two small dogs, in the home later that morning.

When police arrived they arrested Vandenberg, who they reported appeared almost catatonic.

Vandenberg later explained in his interviews with police and a forensic psychologist that voices had ordered him to kill his mother or both he and his mother would be raped and then killed. He believed by killing Jones he was actually saving her from a worse fate.

“It’s apparent ‘MV’ loved his mother, as she loved him. Again, this is one of the great tragedies of this case,” Power said.

Power accepted recommendations from the Crown to order all the case material and testimony be sent to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital review board, and that a DNA sample be collected from Vandenberg in the least intrusive way possible.

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