It was on the 26th April 2005 that Debbie Mowat went to visit her father at his home at 358 Slope Road in Minto, New Brunswick, Canada. What she found prompted her to place a call to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at five minutes past three that afternoon. The authorities duly arrived at half past four and found the bodies of seventy-four year old Fred Fulton, and his seventy year old partner Verna Decarie. There was an "enormous amount of blood at the scene" since both had been repeatedly stabbed and in the case of Fred Fulton (the 'Chet Atkins of Minto' who had been inducted into the Minto Country Music Wall of Fame in 2001) his head had been removed by means of a chainsaw and placed in a pillowcase found under the kitchen table.
As it happened the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had a pretty clear idea of who they believed had carried out the double murder and announced that they were "actively seeking to locate a person of interest". As it turned out the "person of interest" was later detained across the border in Massachusetts during the early hours of the 27th April. The person in question was one of Fred Fulton's neighbours named Gregory Allen Despres, whom the RCMP believed had gained entry to the Fulton home by cutting through a screen door and then kicking in the door proper. He had then made his way to the bedroom where he had attacked and killed Verna Decarie, before turning his attention to Fred Fulton who barricaded himself inside the bathroom and then made an attempt to escape, but only got as far as the porch before he was dragged back into the kitchen where his head was then removed. It was probably relevant that Despres had already been convicted of an assault on Fulton's grandson Frederick Mowat, and was indeed due to present himself at court for sentencing on that charge on the day that he was arrested.
It subsequently emerged that Despres then took Fulton's car and drove towards the US-Canada border. Despres arrived at the border crossing between St. Stephen, New Brunswick, and Calais, Maine on the 25th April carrying a variety of weapons including an axe, a homemade sword, a knife, some brass knuckles, pepper spray, a hatchet and a chainsaw. The United States Customs and Border Protection naturally seized the weapons, fingerprinted Despres, and questioned him for three hours during which he claimed to be a marine snipper and an assassin with seven hundred kills to his credit. Since however he was a naturalized U.S. citizen in possession of a valid U.S. passport they let him into the country, since being decidedly bizarre isn't as yet an offence in the land of the free. As it was border security later faced some criticism for their actions, and whilst Bill Anthony, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, later admitted that it "sounds stupid" that they could take no action regarding someone who appeared at a border checkpoint wielding what appeared to be a bloody chainsaw, he explained that "Our people don't have a crime lab up there. They can't look at a chainsaw and decide if it's blood or rust or red paint." (Although the boys and girls on CSI seem to be able to tell the difference in a matter of seconds.)
Having been admitted into the United States, Despres then hitchhiked to the town of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts where he used to live at one time when he worked at a local marina. Therefore when local law enforcement in Massachusetts received police bulletins to be on the lookout for him in connection with a double murder in Canada, they naturally had some idea of who they were looking for and Despres was subsequently spotted by a state trooper walking along a road in Mattapoisett during the early hours of the 27th April. He was apparently quite co-operative when detained and even told the Massachusetts police that he was wanted for murder (although the murders he was referring to had taken place in Russia). Gregory Allen Despres was later charged with two counts of first degree murder on the 29th April 2005, before being extradited back to Canada, where he was held at a special facility at Dorchester, New Bunswick where he was the subject of a psychiatric assessment which determined that he was fit to stand trial.
On the 8th January 2007 his trial opened at Fredericton, New Brunswick when Despres pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. However on the 1st February it was reported that he had suffered what was called a "delusional meltdown" after launching into a ten minute long rant in which he accused his defence attorney Edward Derrah of working for both al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, whilst claiming that he was a member of the 'Super Space Patrol'. In the circumstances it was understandable that the judge decided to accede to the defence's request to suspend the trial and carry out a new psychiatric assessment of the accused.
A further hearing in April 2007 heard evidence from a forensic psychologist named Dr Scott Theriault that Despres was a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from persistent delusions and concluded that he was not fit to stand trial. This remained the case until the 12th July 2007, when the mental health review board ruled that he was now fit to stand trial, having heard evidence that he had responded well to treatment and now understood the court proceedings and the two charges of first-degree murder. Therefore on the 5th November 2007 the whole trial began again from scratch, being heard this time around by Justice William Grant alone, when Gregory Despres again pleaded not guilty to the charges. Despite his plea there appeared to be little doubt that Despres had actually committed both murders, since at the time of his arrest he had been found in possession of a pair of gloves, a sweatshirt and a bulletproof vest, all of which contained DNA that matched Fulton's, whilst footwear impressions left at the scene matched his combat boot.
However although it was expected that the trial would last three weeks, on the 16th November it was adjourned until January 2008, in order to allow expert testimony to be obtained regarding the defendant's mental state. The family of the victims were noticeably upset by the adjournment, and the further delay it involved. The trial duly recommenced on the 28th January 2008 when Dr Scott Theriault testified that the accused Despres was mentally ill, and could not be held criminally responsible for his actions since he thought that he was a military assassin on an assignment at the time of the murders. His opinion was confirmed by another psychiatrist Dr Louis Theriault (no relation it appears), who told the Court that Despres was delusional and believed he was carrying out a military mission and saw both Fulton and Decarie as military combatants.
After considering the evidence, on the 5th March 2008 Justice William Grant found Despres guilty on both counts of murder, but not criminally responsible due to mental disorder. A verdict which would appear to correspond in practice to that of not guilty by reason of insanity as defined by other jurisdictions. Despres will therefore be held at a secure psychiatric facility within the federal correctional system, subject to regular reviews of his case by the New Brunswick review board, and may therefore be discharged and released at some future date, set free on conditions, or ordered to be held in indefinite detention, depending on the future progress of his treatment.
Sourced from various reports in the Canadian press on the subject, such as the The Daily Gleaner at http://dailygleaner.canadaeast.com, The Cape Breton Post at http://www.capebretonpost.com, CBCNews at http://www.cbc.ca, and CANOE-CNEWS at http://cnews.canoe.ca/ as well as the archives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/index_e.htm