Calgary man acquitted of random attack on professor while naked, high on mushrooms

A young Calgary man accused of breaking into a university professor’s home and attacking her while drunk and high on magic mushrooms was acquitted of the crime on Tuesday.

Mount Royal University professor Janet Hamnett was brutally attacked with a broken broom handle in her home in 2018 by a high and completely naked Matthew Brown, a former MRU student and hockey player.

The middle-of-the-night break-in was random and not targeted against the professor.

Justice Michelle Hollins ruled Brown didn’t consciously know what he was doing because he was in a drug-induced state of delirium. And because of that delirium, the judge couldn’t find that Brown had the intent to commit the crimes.

Brown, now 29, was relieved following the ruling and broke down in tears.

“When I issued an apology during the trial, it came from my heart and I meant it, and I think they know how remorseful I am about everything that happened,” Brown said outside court.

The decision comes after a case with “unique circumstances,” with Crown prosecutor Matthew Block saying that to his knowledge, this is the first time a defence of “extreme intoxication to the point of automatism” has been successful in Alberta, though it’s not without precedent.

“There have been similar rulings on the constitutional question in other jurisdictions in Canada, and this is a matter that will likely be making its way up to the Supreme Court,” Block said.

He added he didn’t think the ruling will lead to “automatism” becoming a common defence, adding the Crown is already considering appealing the decision.

‘This has affected her forever’

The assault had a life-long impact on Hamnett, who wasn’t present for the decision but was represented by her daughter, Lara Unsworth, and son-in-law.

Unsworth said her mother has gone back to teaching at MRU and loves her students and her job, but she still struggles with the lingering effects of PTSD and is sometimes scared and anxious.

“Physically, she’ll never be the same, but definitely — more mentally — this has affected her forever,” Unsworth said.

She said she was disappointed by the ruling, adding it may set a dangerous precedent.

“I’m very scared for the doors this will open,” she said. “We didn’t want him to be severely punished but we did want accountability and we wanted a lesson shared with society that it’s not OK to get that out of control and to hurt people.

“A lot of people were really seriously hurt because of this.”

Unsworth said the family did appreciate Brown’s apology, saying they “believe it was genuine.” However, she said “the person he is and how badly he feels has nothing to do with our disappointment, it’s the actions he took and that he’s not being held accountable.”

Hollins acknowledged the ruling would be difficult for the victim and her family.

“It’s difficult to look at the victims and tell them the law will not hold anyone to account,” Hollins said.

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