MD’s urge to kill wife ‘sudden and impulsive’ She thought his mental illness could be controlled by medication and therapy, murder trial jury hears — (The Hamilton Spectator)

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The Hamilton Spectator

By BARBARA BROWN,  THE SPECTATOR

24 February 1995

HAMILTON — They’d been about to depart for St. Joseph’s Hospital for a psychiatric emergency when Dr. Robert McKnight suddenly lunged at his wife and began choking her and beating her with his fists.  Mrs. McKnight was rescued by two neighborhood men, who responded to the car’s blaring horn and the cries of a teenager witnessing the attack. The two men struggled to forcibly restrain Dr. McKnight for 30 to 40 minutes before police arrived.

Neighbor Joseph Brearley told court in earlier evidence of how Mrs. McKnight stood with a bloodied nose by the side of the car and repeatedly shouted, “Don’t hurt him, he’s sick.”  In further evidence yesterday, nurse Maureen Stuart described her interactions with Dr. and Mrs. McKnight during his month-long stay after the attack in the psychiatric ward at McMaster University Medical Centre.

Dr. McKnight told Ms Stuart he’d never lost control of himself before and felt extremely remorseful and fearful that his wife would leave him.    The patient said he’d had thoughts of killing himself for two days prior to the attack and had considered hanging himself.

“He thought to kill his wife first, to keep her from distress of his failing (medical) practice,” Ms Stuart noted in her records of June 21, 1992.  Dr. McKnight told the nurse the urge to kill his wife had been “extremely sudden and impulsive.”

The nurse also noted Dr. McKnight attributed his homicidal and suicidal compulsions to the drug Prozac which he’d been taking to treat depression.

Over the next several weeks, Dr. McKnight’s mental condition slowly began to improve and he was allowed a number of passes to go out in public with his wife; for example, dining one night at the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel.   Although still worried about being alone with her husband, Mrs. McKnight gave a positive report after Dr. McKnight’s first visit home and told Ms Stuart “she was quite surprised at how relaxed she felt with her husband on the visit home.”

Dr. McKnight was discharged from hospital the second week of July 1992. Nearly 18 months later, he viciously killed Mrs. McKnight with a large knife in the bedroom of their home. Police discovered the accused standing barefoot on a buffet in the kitchen. His flannel pyjamas were caked in blood and he had a series of shoelaces tied around his neck, attached to a bannister above.

The trial is expected to last three more weeks. At issue is whether Dr. McKnight is guilty of premeditated murder, or not criminally responsible because of a mental illness which rendered him incapable of knowing right from wrong.