The screams of a 13-year-old girl echoed through a New Westminster courtroom Monday as the second-degree murder trial began for the man who stabbed her at an Abbotsford high school in 2016.
There is no doubt that Gabriel Brandon Klein is the man who wielded the knife that ended Letisha Reimer’s life.
But Crown prosecutor Robert Macgowan told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that Klein — who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia — will argue he should be found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.
Klein, who looks considerably heavier than in a photograph of him released by police shortly after the attack, stood in the prisoner’s dock as the second-degree murder charge was read into the record along with an aggravated assault charge involving a second student.
He blurted out the words “not guilty” both times.
The 23-year-old wore green pre-trial sweats and heavy framed glasses and looked down as Holmes asked to see the video of the stabbing twice.
The day ended in a lockdown
The six-second video, filmed by a student on Snapchat, takes the camera to the edge of a balcony looking down into the Abbotsford Senior Secondary School rotunda.
Klein can be seen making a stabbing motion. He stands up and steps back, throwing the knife away.
It was the first video shown in the trial, which is happening without a jury.
“Tuesday, Nov.1, 2016 was a school day at Abbotsford Senior Secondary that began much like any other,” Macgowan told the judge in his opening statement.
“The day ended with the school in a lockdown and two female students being rushed to hospital with serious stab wounds. Tragically, one of them, 13-year-old Letisha Reimer did not survive.”
The identity of the other victim, known as EI, is protected by a publication ban. Macgowan said EI survived but was left “both physically and psychologically traumatized.”
About a dozen people sat in the courtroom, and one young woman walked out before the video of the stabbing was played.
In order to establish that he was not criminally responsible for his actions, the onus will fall on Klein to prove he was either unable to appreciate his actions or that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.
‘He was very matter of fact’
Macgowan began explaning the Crown’s evidence by laying out the sequence of events that took place in the hours and days before the attack, starting with Klein’s appearance two days earlier at the Huntingdon Border crossing in Abbotsford.
A Canada Border Services Agency officer was among the first witnesses. Krysten Montague was on duty when U.S. border patrol officers brought Klein in for crossing the border illegally.
Montague said he claimed to have been looking for work on a farm when he accidentally strayed across the line. He was clean cut and made eye contact but had no identity papers.
She said he claimed to have come to Vancouver from Alberta to visit cousins. He was homeless.
“He was very matter of fact in answering the questions,” Montague said.
“He seemed well spoken, He didn’t seem nervous. He was not uncomfortable with the situation.”
Montague said Klein was allowed to leave after about 20 minutes. She said she offered to help him find a place in a local homeless shelter. She said she later saw him walking along the road in town.
Pronounced dead at 3:05 p.m.
According to the Crown, Klein was later admitted to the emergency room of an Abbotsford hospital where he was treated, released and directed to a homeless shelter where he spent the next two nights.
The day before the stabbings, video cameras caught Klein going in and out of the local library, which was directly connected to the high school at the time. He could be seen talking to a woman as she exited.
Macgowan said police tracked Klein’s movements through a series of CCTV cameras on the last day of Letisha Reimer’s life.
He could be seen walking into a liquor store and slipping two bottles of rum into his camouflage backpack. And minutes later, a camera found him walking through the parking lot on his way to the sporting goods store, Cabela’s.
Holmes and the people in the public gallery watched security video from Cabela’s, which showed Klein calmly walking to the hunting section and picking up a Buck knife. He walked out of the store without paying, box in his hand.
The same knife was entered into evidence by the lead homicide investigator in the case. He held the box at an angle so the judge could see the weapon inside.
In all of the videos leading up to the attack, Klein appears calm, walks determinedly and occasionally interacts with store clerks.
Macgowan also introduced a video taken by police in the hours after the attack in the high school.
The rotunda where the stabbings took place was by then empty of students, papers strewn on the ground alongside Klein’s backpack. Yellow police tape hung from the handrails and a video screen still displayed a message to students.
Letisha Reimer was pronounced dead of blood loss at 3:05 p.m. Nov. 1 — hours before police filmed the aftermath of the attack that killed her.
She was stabbed 14 times. Macgowan said it was an admitted fact that Klein caused every one of her wounds.