LETHBRIDGE – A 29-year-old Lethbridge man with multiple mental health issues has received a five-year prison sentence, after admitting that he stabbed his 72-year-old father in the neck and his 62-year-old mother in the leg earlier this year.
Nigel Vermeulen pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder and another of assault with a weapon Tuesday, July 10, in connection with the attack on Feb. 11. The sentence was then recommended as part of a joint-submission by the Crown and defence, which the judge agreed to.
With credit for time spent in pre-trial custody – along with an enhanced credit of 1.5 for each day served – Vermeulen has just over four-years and four months left on the sentence.
As part of sentencing, Crown prosecutor Erin Olsen read an agreed statement of facts to the court, noting that Vermeulen suffers from a variety of mental health issues. However, an assessment at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre determined that he is fit to stand trial and does not meet the criteria to be found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.
Vermeulen has been diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder, selective mutism, delusional disorder, and an unspecified personality disorder.
Olsen explained that Vermeulen’s parents became aware of his issues when he was still very young, and that he continued to live with them into adulthood, having quit school early and never getting a job because of his mental health issues. He would also only leave the house to go for walks with his father or to get groceries with his mother.
Then, in the early morning hours of Feb. 11, Vermeulen’s mother woke to her husband screaming and a sharp pain in her knee. She called out to Vermeulen when she saw him at the edge of the bed and he took off running outside in the frigid night. When she returned to the bedroom she found her husband bleeding heavily from his neck and called 911.
“It was by luck, not design, that his father wasn’t killed,” said Olsen, as she told the court that Vermeulen had stabbed right through his father’s neck and into his oral cavity, incredibly doing so without causing any lasting damage. He only required sutures during a three-hour stay at the hospital. His mother did not require treatment for a puncture wound near her knee.
Lethbridge Police later found Vermeulen not far from home and took him into custody.
During an interview in which he would only respond by writing, Vermeulen said he felt the only way he could start his own life was by killing his parents. He also attempted to record the events on a camera in order to document what he believed would be a significant moment in his life. Police also found a journal entry that Vermeulen had entered into his computer before attacking his parents, in which he outlined his plans.
“Can’t sleep, hungry, so might as well kill my parents,” Olsen quoted from the agreed statement of facts. “Going to knife them and hope it works… all that matters is killing them.”
In the entry and in speaking with police, Vermeulen made references to being abused as a child, however, during his psychiatric assessment, Dr. Reilly Smith found that Vermeulen suffers from “delusional beliefs,” and that he didn’t see his parents as people. A police investigation also found no evidence of past abuse.
Olsen also noted that aside from the remorse demonstrated by entering a guilty plea, Vermeulen hasn’t shown any other signs of empathy towards his parents. She then acknowledged that it is likely a result of his mental health issues, saying it’s unlikely he is capable of expressing those emotions as others do.
Those issues, she explained, amounted to “greatly reduced levels of moral blameworthiness.”
“It seems to me, there is no rational explanation for the perpetration of these crimes by Mr. Vermeulen,” said Judge Eric Peterson before delivering the sentence. “He is mentally ill, but not to the extent that it would excuse his conduct.”
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