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This Canadian Soldier Killed His Wife — And He Blames PTSD

A 52-year-old veteran of the Canadian Forces says it was flashbacks of his tours in Croatia and Afghanistan that led him to stab his wife dozens of times across her face, neck, and body during a role-playing game.

by Justin Ling
Nov 2 2015, 10:21pm

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Howard Richmond says that when he sprang from his hiding place, knife in hand, and grabbed his wife, he lost control.

The 52-year-old, a veteran of the Canadian Forces who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), says it was flashbacks of his tours in Croatia and Afghanistan that led him to stab Melissa Richmond dozens of times across her face, neck, and body.

Now he's trying to convince a court he shouldn't be held criminally responsible, in a case that highlights long-standing issues with how Canada has dealt with returning soldiers suffering from PTSD and could set a tone for how the court system deals with conflict-driven mental illness in the future.

Lawyers for Richmond are grappling with prosecutors in an Ottawa courtroom this week as each side tries to sell their version of events to the jury: either Richmond is a troubled Canadian hero who never got the mental health support he needed and snapped in the midst of a consensual sex game with his wife; or he was a jealous and wronged husband who sought to punish his wife for an affair with a family friend.

Her body was found near a ravine on July 28, 2013. Richmond was arrested a week later, and, after saying that he didn't remember committing the crime, eventually admitted that he murdered his wife.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Richmond testified that he and his 28-year-old wife regularly engaged in public sex acts, and role played scenarios where he was "the bad man" who would abduct her as part of a rape fantasy.

But Richmond's lawyers say that when he emerged from the bushes that night, knife in hand — which, they say, was part of the game — something changed. He began to see visions from his time in Croatia. He had visions of a small girl, he says, who was executed in front of him in 1992.

"I saw the little girl and I could see myself stabbing Melissa. I don't know why I was doing it. I felt like I was fighting for my life," Richmond testified, according to the Citizen.

The prosecution, however, says the victim had intended to leave her husband, and was carrying on an affair with a friend of the couple — a fact which enraged Richmond, and drove him to commit the murder.

The jury will ultimately have to determine whether Richmond was suffering from 'dissociative flashbacks' when he killed his wife, or whether that excuse is merely a cover. The case nevertheless highlights the tough situation that many returning soldiers find themselves in.

Richmond was on leave from the Canadian Forces at the time of his wife's killing, but testified in court that his commander had discouraged his unit from taking stress leave, and even berated him for doing so.

He is just one of many who has come out in recent years to criticize how the Canadian Forces have dealt with veterans who have developed mental illness.

A 2013 survey reported that 16.5 percent of full-time soldiers experienced some sort of mental health disorder, or dependence on alcohol — including more than 5 percent who said they experienced PTSD.

That has manifested in a variety of negative ways. One CBC investigation found a fivefold increase in the number of domestic violence cases reported by on-base military police, circa 2008. Between 2004 and 2014, at least 171 Canadian Forces members have committed suicide, according to departmental statistics — although those numbers do not include retired soldiers.

The government has made a concerted push to address the crisis, including the creation of a center within the Forces to try and deal with the wave of soldiers experiencing PTSD or other mental illness. That's part of a $200 million federal commitment to address the issue over six years.

But many soldiers, like Richmond, say the culture within the Forces still discourages talking about mental illness and PTSD. One government audit from 2014 also found that Veterans Affairs Canada was "not adequately facilitating timely access to mental health services."

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling