B.C.’s top court has struck down the conviction of a Lillooet man accused of killing his drug dealer five years after becoming addicted to opioids following a workplace back injury.
Jeffrey Harris will be tried in a new trial.
In 2017, Harris, 40, was in sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.
A jury found him guilty of second-degree murder for the Feb. 10, 2015, slaying of Gary Mandseth in Lillooet, a Fraser Canyon town of about 2,300 located two hours west of Kamloops.
At trial, court heard Mandseth sold heroin to Harris on a regular basis. Harris also sold drugs himself, the jury was told.
Mandseth’s death was exceptionally violent, according to witness testimony. A BC Ambulance paramedic broke down in tears while describing the scene he encountered.
Harris appealed on the grounds he trial judge failed to properly instruct jurors regarding the defence of provocation and about involuntary intoxication.
In court, Harris said he went to Mandseth’s house on the day of the slaying to pick up drugs and receive a heroin injection. Instead, he said, Mandseth injected him with cocaine.
Harris did not deny stabbing Mandseth to death, but maintained he was in a chaotic, drug-induced blackout state when the slaying took place.
Witnesses said they saw Harris attack Mandseth, saying “I am killing him because he killed me first.”
Citing the testimony of a psychologist, defence lawyer Donna Turko told jurors Harris was is a state of automatism at the time of the slaying — where cognition and action split in a person’s mind. Turko said Harris lacked the ability to form intent and therefore should be found not guilty.
During his trial, court heard Harris became addicted to heroin after being prescribed opioid painkillers following a workplace back injury five years earlier.
A three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel found the jury was not properly instructed on the defence of provocation and involuntary intoxication.
“Given the expert opinion evidence and the accused’s evidence of his heroin use, there was no reason for him to believe that accepting what he thought to be a dose of intravenous heroin would cause him to become violent or aggressive,” reads the court’s written decision.
“Accordingly, there was an air of reality to the defence of involuntary intoxication based on the accused unknowingly receiving intravenous cocaine instead of heroin.”
A date for Harris’ new trial has not been set.