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Yukon man, found mentally unfit after solitary, faces another trial

Michael Nehass, who landed in jail more than five years ago, has since fired at least three lawyers, been found mentally unfit twice and been convicted once.

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Crown lawyers in the Yukon are mounting a second prosecution against an aboriginal man whose mental state deteriorated so severely while in solitary confinement at a Whitehorse jail that he was found unfit to participate in his own sentencing.

Michael Nehass landed in jail more than five years ago on charges of forcible confinement, assault with a weapon and uttering threats. Since then, he has fired at least three lawyers, been found mentally unfit twice and been convicted once.

Earlier this month, a Yukon Supreme Court justice decided the dangerous offender application portion of Mr. Nehass's sentencing could not proceed because of mental-health issues. Faced with the legal equivalent of a stalemate, Justice Scott Brooker declared a mistrial, but urged both parties to avoid prolonging the matter much longer.

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"If and when Mr. Nehass becomes fit, perhaps given the unique circumstances of this case, Crown and defence might be able to resolve the matters without the necessity of another trial," he said, adding that Mr. Nehass had already served more time in custody than would be expected given the crimes committed.

Despite that, Crown prosecutor Eric Marcoux voiced his intent to pursue conviction on Tuesday and turned down Justice Brooker's offer to manage the case toward some kind of mutual agreement.

"I take it you've given thought to things such as a peace bond and things like that?" Justice Brooker asked Mr. Marcoux on Tuesday.

"That's correct," Mr. Marcoux responded.

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Following the hearing, Mr. Marcoux clarified the Crown's reason for wanting to retry the case. "Mr. Nehass committed a serious personal-injury offence," he told The Globe by phone. "He was convicted by a jury for that offence. And he is at a high risk to reoffend, putting the public safety at risk. That being said, as always, we can reassess the case as new information on his mental health is provided."

Defence attorney Anik Morrow said she and her client were disappointed at the Crown's position.

"I don't think there is any public interest in seeing this reprosecuted," she said outside the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, Ont., where Mr. Nehass makes court appearances by video while he receives treatment. "What we need is a solution for Mr. Nehass."

The proceeding now starts anew, leaving fundamental issues, such as deciding which court should hear the matter and where Mr. Nehass should be held, up in the air.

The court previously heard from a prison administrator that the Whitehorse Correctional Centre is incapable of dealing with Mr. Nehass's health needs and that the territory lacks any other appropriate facility.

The case dates back to December, 2011, when Mr. Nehass was charged for allegedly forcibly confining a woman and holding a knife to her neck. In the more than half decade since then, the case bogged down in a series of psychiatric-assessment orders and mental-fitness hearings as Mr. Nehass, who went through several lawyers but preferred to act as his own defence, told the court the Crown was pursuing the case as part of an international conspiracy involving brain-implanted microchips and former prime minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Nehass's insistence that he was of sound mind further complicated assessment and treatment attempts.

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The courtroom difficulties paled in comparison to scenes inside the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, where Mr. Nehass became known as a problem inmate who correctional officers opted to manage with lengthy stints in solitary confinement.

It was in solitary confinement that his delusions flourished, according to multiple mental-health workers who reported to the court on Mr. Nehass's state of mind.

A second trial could add a year or more to the Nehass case. Currently, he is undergoing voluntary treatment at the Whitby forensic assessment centre, which is located more than 4,000 kilometres from his Yukon home. The case returns on March 6.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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