Defence says estranged husband ‘not criminally responsible’ for Leanne Friesen’s death

Closing submissions presented Friday at trial of Jeffrey Friesen of Abbotsford

Leanne Friesen

Leanne Friesen

Jeff Friesen of Abbotsford was in a “dissociative state” and was not in control of his actions when he shot and killed his estranged wife Leanne in 2013, defence counsel Lisa Jean Helps said Friday in her closing submissions at Friesen’s murder trial.

Helps said, for that reason, Friesen, 44, should be found not criminally responsible for Leanne’s death by reason of a mental disorder.

Crown lawyer Scott Quendack, in his closing submissions, argued that Friesen intended to kill Leanne, 40, and knew that what he was doing was wrong.

He said Friesen should be convicted of the second-degree murder charge for which he has been on trial since mid-November.

The two sides presented their closing addresses in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Friday. Justice Martha Devlin will give her instructions to the 10-person jury on Monday, after which time they will begin deliberations.

Friesen has admitted that he shot and killed Leanne on Feb. 5, 2013, but the core issue is whether he intended to do so.

Evidence presented at trial indicated that the couple, who married in 2000, had a rocky relationship that culminated in their separation in the fall of 2012, although Friesen still regularly slept over at their home on Cassiar Court in Abbotsford.

Friesen previously testified that on the morning that Leanne was shot, she was angry at him over money and began yelling and cursing at him, threatening that she would take away their two kids.

He said he proceeded into the garage, but Leanne followed him and then left. Friesen said he decided to kill himself, pulled out a gun that was hidden under his work bench, loaded it with two shells, kneeled on the ground, and put the gun between his knees with the barrel beneath his chin.

He said he was having difficulty finding the trigger, when Leanne burst back into the garage, yelled “What the hell are you doing?!” and struck him on the back of the head with a hard object.

Friesen testified that his next memory was of waking up and seeing Leanne dead on the floor, with the gun beside her. He said he had no recollection of the actual shooting.

Leanne’s body was found in the garage by police on the evening of Feb. 6, 2013, after family members became concerned because they hadn’t heard from her.

Evidence presented at trial was that Leanne had been shot twice in her torso by a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. Friesen said he had altered the gun so that it would fit in the box in which he had stored it about eight months prior to the shooting.

He said he had stored the gun as protection from people who were after him for money.

Neighbours testified that the two shots had been fired about 15 seconds apart. Expert testimony indicated that Leanne had been shot from distance of five feet and that she had been standing at the time.

Also revealed at trial was that Friesen hid the shotgun shells and Leanne’s purse and wallet in the house after the incident. He also wrapped the gun in a towel, placed it in a plastic bag and put it in his truck the following day.

Helps said the jurors should take into account Friesen’s testimony about his ongoing battles with depression over the years – including a 2006 suicide attempt using a gun that malfunctioned – as well as testimony from two psychiatrists, who agreed that he was in a “state of disassociation” at the time of the shooting.

They should also consider his testimony about having experienced “memory gaps” in the past, Helps said.

“How could Mr. Friesen have known what he was doing when he shot Leanne, if he wasn’t in mental control?” she said.

Helps also addressed 102 pages of text messages – exchanged between Friesen and Leanne between Dec. 1, 2012 and the time of her killing – that were produced as evidence.

She said that despite the Crown’s theory that Friesen killed Leanne because she wanted to end their marriage and he didn’t want to let her go, none of his messages to Leanne threatened to hurt or kill her.

But the Crown asked the jurors to recall testimony from some of Leanne’s friends and family members in which they said Leanne had told them about verbal threats from Friesen, including that he would kill her if he ever saw her with another man.

Quendack related the testimony from two of these people who said they were in the room when Leanne had Friesen on speakerphone during conversations.

In one instance, Friesen asked Leanne if she was seeing a particular individual and that, if she was, he would kill both of them, Quendack said.

The Crown dismissed the idea that Friesen was in a dissociative state at the time of the shooting, saying his actions immediately before the shooting and in the period after showed “logical and goal-directed behaviour.”

Quendack also pointed out that although both psychiatrists testified that Friesen had been in a dissociative state at the time of the shooting, only one said this would affect his ability to control his actions. The other said Friesen would have “still had the ability to decide what he wanted to do,” Quendack said.

He said Friesen’s testimony was “inconsistent and illogical,” including that although he testified that Leanne had struck him on the back of the head hard enough for him to pass out, he never complained about a head injury or sought medical attention after being arrested.

Quendack said Friesen was driven by jealousy and by anger that Leanne wanted to move on from their marriage – including presenting him with legal separation papers the month before she died.

“The real issue in this case is whether Mr. Friesen intended to kill Leanne Friesen with a shotgun. The Crown says, when you look at the nature of the killing, the circumstances of the shooting, the evidence of the state of their relationship, you will be satisfied that Mr. Friesen either meant to kill Leanne Friesen or he meant to cause her bodily harm that would almost surely cause her death.”

If Friesen is convicted of second-degree murder, he receives an automatic life sentence, with parole eligibility – to be determined by the courts – of between 10 and 25 years.

If found not criminally responsible, he will have a hearing before a review board to determine whether he receives an absolute discharge, a discharge with conditions or detention in a psychiatric hospital.