Sandy Charles was fourteen years old when he and a eight year old accomplice lured a seven year old boy to an abandoned lot and tortured then murdered him. Canada does not charge children under twelve and the eight year old accomplice has never been named. Sandy Charles would be found not guilty by reason of insanity and has been kept in a mental health facility since his arrest
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Residents in the normally quiet community of La Ronge, Sask., 400 km northeast of Saskatoon, reacted with shock and disbelief last summer when a local teenager was charged with first-degree murder in the brutal stabbing death of seven-year-old Johnathan Thimpsen. But it was not until last week, when 14-year-old Sandy Charles stood trial in adult court in Saskatoon, that the full horror of the crime sank in.
After the lanky teenager pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, the court heard how Charles and an unnamed eight-year-old accomplice lured Thimpsen into the bush near his home. Charles repeatedly stabbed Thimpsen and crushed his skull with a 12-lb. rock. Then, apparently mimicking a ritual he saw in the 1991 movie Warlock, Charles tore 15 strips off Thimpsen’s body and boiled the flesh into liquid fat. After his arrest, Charles told police he was in the thrall of spirits when he committed the murder. “I started to think about killing,” he said. “Something wanted me to.”
Most of the testimony last week centred on the teenager’s motivations and state of mind at the time of the killing. Defence lawyer Barry Singer said that Sandy Charles had been deeply affected by Warlock, which he viewed at least 10 times in the days leading up to the murder. Like the title character in the movie, Singer said that Sandy Charles believed he would become a son of the devil and be able to fly if he drank the boiled fat of an unbaptized male child.
Singer also called psychiatric experts who testified that Charles was suffering from a serious mental disorder and that he had lost touch with reality when he ended Thimpsen’s life.. But prosecutor Robin Ritter suggested that Charles could tell right from wrong and noted that he and his accomplice—who could not be charged because of his age and who is now in a foster home—had decided to kill a child 10 days before the murder and selected Thimpsen as their victim. Ritter also said that Sandy Charles had told youth jail staff that he hoped to be declared insane so that he would be sent to a psychiatric hospital and released in two years.
The trial was to continue this week. But it has already revived the thorny debate over
the impact of violence in the media. Wendy Josephson, a University of Winnipeg psychologist who has studied TV violence, told Maclean’s that so-called copycat murders tend to follow a familiar pattern, with the perpetrator strongly identifying with a violent movie, ruminating and finally acting on it. She added that the most vulnerable are those adolescents who tend to think what they see in the visual media is real and who do not have enough counterbalancing positive influences in their lives. ‘There is a cost to having so much exposure to violence,” she said. “What we have to decide as a society is what to do about it.”
Back in La Ronge, residents had more immediate concerns as they reached out to comfort one another at church services and healing circles. Beyond the gruesome evidence in the case, observed local United Church minister Heather Wyatt, the most shocking aspect was the age of both the perpetrators and victim. “That’s not supposed to happen,” she said. “Children are not supposed to kill children. Something is very wrong.”
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