Darryl Sheepway was in an “abnormal” state of mind induced by significant cocaine use when he killed 25-year-old Christopher Brisson in 2015, a forensic psychiatrist testified at Sheepway’s first-degree murder trial.
The defence’s key witness, Dr. Shabreham Lohrasbe told a Whitehorse court Nov. 29 about the “hyper-focused” mindset and “hyper-reactivity” Sheepway would have been experiencing when he fatally shot Brisson, his crack cocaine dealer, on a deserted Whitehorse road after luring him out under the pretense of buying more drugs.
The trial hinges on not whether Sheepway killed Brisson — he’s already admitted to that — but Sheepway’s degree of culpability. The Crown has previously rejected his offer to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
In both video statements played earlier in the trial and on the witness stand last both, Sheepway said he had only intended to rob Brisson following a month of almost-daily crack cocaine use. The day of Brisson’s killing, Sheepway’s then-wife had taken away his bank cards and cell phone, leaving him without a source of cash to buy more crack.
In his testimony, Lohrasbe spoke about the effects of cocaine use and addition, telling the court that it creates a “paradoxical hyper-focus” on the drug and getting more of it while, at the same time, tuning everything else out. Users are restless, hyper-reactive and respond very impulsively and quickly to unexpected situations, Lohrasbe testified, thanks both to the “jagged” ups and downs getting high and coming down produce.
Prior to the trial, Lohrasbe also interviewed Sheepway and his ex-wife, and watched a “re-creation” Sheepway led the RCMP on. The psychiatrist, who’s served as an expert in hundreds of cases, said that Sheepway described the “hyper-focused cravings” for crack cocaine that he’s heard about “many times before.” In that kind of state, Lohrasbe said, caring about consequences and the realities of normal life tend to fall away — a mindset that could be described as “abnormal.”
After years of hiding his marijuana use and later, his use of crack cocaine, Sheepway would have become “skilled at maintaining a façade of normality,” Lohrasbe continued, and would be able to complete seemingly mundane tasks — holding conversations or driving his truck for example — while still in an “abnormal mindset.”
In recounting the time immediately leading up to the shooting, Lohrasbe said the narrative Sheepway had built up in his mind was to rob Brisson, use the crack and then build up the courage to kill himself. Lohrasbe noted later in his testimony that symptoms of a cocaine “crash” are essentially the opposite of a high, with users reporting feelings of despair, suicidal thoughts and being on-edge.
The fact that Brisson fought back in grabbing the barrel of the shotgun was an important point, Lohrasbe said, because Sheepway never considered the possibility of something going wrong. That unexpected turn of events would have triggered Sheepway’s hyper-reactivity, Lohrasbe said, and in his mindset, Sheepway didn’t think about consequences — his thought process “seized” and he simply reacted, his actions driven by the cravings for more crack cocaine.
“He shot without thinking of the consequences, he just wanted the drugs,” Lohrasbe said.
Killing Brisson would then have had a “dramatic” and “drastic” impact on Sheepway’s mental state, Lohrasbe said, shifting him out of that hyper-focused and craving-driven mindset from before.
During cross-examination by the Crown, Lohrasbe confirmed that Sheepway did not appear to have experienced cocaine-related psychosis of any sort, nor did he claim amnesia for any part of the events. As well, he confirmed that his assessment was based on what Sheepway told him about his own drug use, and that no one could say, with certainty, how high Sheepway was at any point during the day of the killing.
Lohrasbe also agreed with the Crown that Sheepway appeared to show logical, rational and goal-oriented thinking both leading up to and after killing Brisson, but also noted that “goal-oriented behaviour” can co-exist with a disordered mental state.
The trial continues.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org