Western Australia’s Supreme Court Chief Justice has labelled the state’s mental health system a failure as he found an Ellenbrook teenager with schizophrenia not guilty of murdering his family due to unsoundness of mind.
Teancum Petersen-Crofts, now 21, stabbed his mother Michelle Petersen, 48, sister Bella, 15, and brother Rua, 8, to death on July 15, 2018 inside their home while in psychosis.
During the final day of his Supreme Court trial on Monday, Chief Justice Peter Quinlan heard Mr Petersen-Crofts was not assessed by a psychiatrist or admitted to hospital after police took him there under the Mental Health Act the night before the killings.
At the time, he was suffering multiple delusions, including hearing voices in his head commanding him to kill his family or be killed himself.
In finding Mr Petersen-Crofts not guilty, Justice Quinlan said the young man had suffered from mental illness for a long time, but had never received adequate treatment.
“We have – the whole community – has failed you, and has failed your mum, sister and brother, your grandmother and the rest of your family whose grief is indescribable,” he said.
“It should be a lesson to us all that we can and must do better at assisting those in the community who suffer mental illnesses.”
Mr Petersen-Crofts’ family quietly wept in the public gallery as the comments were read aloud.
At the start of the trial on Friday, Justice Quinlan was told of Ms Petersen’s repeated attempts to get her son mental health support, with his first hospital admission at 15 years old.
He went on to be admitted to hospital a further 11 times with psychotic symptoms, and was seen many more times in various emergency departments over the following years before killing his family when he was 19.
Forensic psychiatrist Daniel de Klerk diagnosed Mr Petersen-Crofts with paranoid schizophrenia and said his presentation to St John of God Hospital Midland the night before the deaths should have been taken more seriously.
“In the first instance, hindsight is 20/20, however, in saying that, in a young man with repeated hospital admissions ... and talking about being followed by serial killers, the outcome could have been very different if he had been admitted,” he said.
“He was not assessed by a psychiatrist, which would have been my first expectation.
“People with psychosis do not walk around with a sign saying, ‘I have psychosis’ ... he should have been taken more seriously.”
Instead, Dr de Klerk said an emergency department physician assessed Mr Petersen-Croft’s walk and decided he was not in psychosis – a method not used by psychiatrists.
He was held overnight at the hospital and released in the morning. He killed his family later that night.
Mr Petersen-Crofts, who has been held in the Frankland Centre since his arrest, remains very unwell and continues to suffer hallucinations in 2021 despite being on medication.
Dr de Klerk concluded the teenager was likely part of around one-third of people diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who did not respond to treatment.
Forensic psychiatrist Steve Patchett also gave evidence at trial and said the younger a person was when they first developed psychotic behaviours, the more severe the hallucinations and delusions tended to be.
“This is a very tragic story due to the level of psychosis at a very young age,” he said.
“Despite all the best evidence-based medicines available, some people don’t respond and that is the situation here.”
Dr Patchett said Mr Petersen-Crofts was extremely remorseful for his actions.
“He sat on the couch for half an hour [before the deaths] and he really agonised, trying to stop [the voices in his head, commanding him to kill],” he said.
“He believed he had to. He will say, ‘I did it, I killed my mother, my sister and my half-brother’, but he gets very distressed ... he cries, I’ve seen him sobbing.
“He talks a lot about how he loves his family and feels intense remorse for what he’s done.”
Both forensic psychiatrists concluded Mr Petersen-Crofts was not in control of his actions the day of the deaths and was suffering powerful hallucinations.
Justice Quinlan found Mr Petersen-Crofts was deprived of the capacity to control his actions when he killed his family, believing the voices in his head telling him to kill them otherwise the rest of the world would suffer.
The 21-year-old sat mostly with his head down during proceedings, looking up only to wave and smile at a family member during a break.
His grandmother, Ms Petersen’s mother Anna McLean, spoke outside court following the verdict.
“I feel overwhelmed ... today has been really exhausting and the outcome has come, what more can we ask for, his mother up there is looking down,” she said.
Mr Petersen-Crofts will remain at the Frankland Centre under a custody order until the governor determines if and when he can be released.