Li: Mental Disorders and Criminal Responsibility

The verdict in the horrific Greyhound bus slaying case is expected today. The trial ended yesterday with both the Crown and the Defense seeking that the accused, Vince Li, be found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.


On July 30, 2008, Li sat beside 22 year-old Tim McLean, on a Greyhound bus trip near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. At around 8:30 p.m., he violently attacked McLean, who was sleeping at the time, stabbing him between 50 or 60 times. While the driver and approximately 30 other passengers frantically fled the bus, Li proceeded to behead the man and remove his internal organs, as well as smell and eat his body parts.

After being locked on the bus by the other passengers, police arrived and eventually apprehended Li, who admitted that he had killed McLean and stated, “I’m guilty. Please kill me.” McLean’s body parts were found scattered around the bus, as well as in Li’s pockets. Li, who came to Canada from China in 2001, had a history of mental problems, but was not known to be violent. He was known to take long bus trips and miss work with no explanation. Although those close to him encouraged Li to seek medical treatment, he refused.

At Trial

At the second-degree murder trial, there was an agreed statement of facts and both the Crown and the Defense seek the same verdict, that Li be found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder. Psychiatrists for the Crown and the Defense both agree that Li was suffering from schizophrenia and did not know what he was doing when he killed McLean. They testified that Li believed that he was instructed by God to kill McLean, fearing for his life should he not carry out these “orders.”

The psychiatrists also believed that Li thought that McLean had supernatural powers and the ability to come back to life, so he continued to mutilate the body and scatter it around the bus in white garbage bags. The Crown psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Yaren, believes that Li is still psychotic, having hallucinations, hearing voices and believing that God will kill him, despite the strong anti-psychotic medication he is now taking. Yaren explained:

It would be in some sense easier if Mr. Li was an anti-social psychopath with a history of malicious behaviour, but he isn’t that. He is, as I’ve come to know him, a decent person. He is as much a victim of this horrendous illness … as Mr. McLean was a victim.

The psychiatrist for the Defense, Dr. Jonathan Rootenberg, stated, “He has a major mental illness that…rendered him unable to know what he was doing was wrong.” Both psychiatrists agree that with proper treatment, Li may one day be rehabilitated and returned to society. Should Li be found to be not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder, he will spend time in a treatment facility instead of a prison. A Manitoba review board will determine his medical treatment is sufficient for him to be returned to the community and his case will be reviewed yearly, with no minimum amount of time that he must spend in the hospital before he can be released.

McLean’s family has expressed hope that McLean is convicted and sentenced to life in custody. They are also lobbying for changes to the Criminal Code that would eliminate the possibility of a person found not criminally responsible for a crime by mental disorder from ever being returned to the community. As Carol deDelley, McLean’s mother, explained:

Under no circumstances do I ever want this man walking free in public again. This shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone….They can treat him, that’s fine. But it has to be done in a locked facility for the rest of his days. Anything less than that is not justice…I don’t think he can be cured. Treated, yes. But not cured. He’s unpredictably dangerous.

While the issue of whether those found not criminally responsible for a crime by mental disorder can be cured is a separate topic, considering the horrendous circumstances in this case, it would seem unfair if Li were ever to be released into the community, regardless of the amount of treatment that he received. Stay tuned for the trial judge’s decision.

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