Blenheim man shot his wife in March 2016 before setting home on fire

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Walter Ardis has been found not criminally responsible for shooting his wife in the head before using gasoline to set their Blenheim house on fire.

Looking frail as he used a walker to come into the Superior Court of Justice in Chatham on Monday, the 79-year-old Blenheim man entered a plea of not guilty in the first-degree murder of his wife.

Defence lawyer David Jacklin told the court he wasn’t contesting the agreed statement of facts that detailed how Ardis’s 27-year marriage to his wife Margaret, 73, had encountered some troubles when he was convinced she was having an affair with someone at the local seniors centre, despite her assurances that was not the case.

The court heard that in the early afternoon of March 24, 2016, the couple’s home at 58 Nicholls Dr. caught fire. However, after firefighters knocked down the flames, the body of Margaret Ardis was found at the foot of the stairs to the basement with a single gunshot to the back left side of her head.

A .38-calibre handgun, with one bullet missing from the chamber, capable of firing the type of bullet that killed Margaret Ardis, was found by police in a drawer in the garage. The court heard Ardis later admitted to owning the gun.

The court also heard how the investigation by Chatham-Kent police and the Ontario Fire Marshal determined no less than three separate points of origin for the fire.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas accepted, based on the evidence gathered by the Crown and the fact it was not disputed by the defence, that Ardis “committed the act”of killing his wife.

“The question then becomes whether or not . . . Mr. Ardis was criminally responsible for the event or not,” he added.

London, Ont. forensic psychiatrist Dr. Arun Prakash told the court in his expert opinion Ardis was not criminally responsible for his actions under Section 16 of the Canada Criminal Code.

He has worked with Ardis at the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care in St. Thomas since November 2016.

Prakash provided details on how the “vascular dementia” diagnosed in Ardis, which is brought on by suffering strokes and other heart conditions, contributed to impairing his ability to think and reason properly because it impacted the frontal lobe of his brain.

The court heard it was determined through studying Ardis’ medical history, including examining previous CT scans of his brain and consulting medical practitioners that have treated him, that he was suffering from vascular dementia before killing his wife.

Prakash told the Chatham Daily News after the proceedings that the frontal lobe of the brain is where cognitive functions, judgement and problem-solving take place.

He said people can be impaired to the point they are unable to “appreciate the consequences of their decisions.”

Prakash told the court the assessments and interviews with Ardis involved asking questions in different ways and at different times to determine the consistency of his story.

Although there were minor variations, he said Ardis was consistent in his story on such facts as believing someone from the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang came to his home and committed the crime.

“He has never admitted that he did it,” Prakash said.

The court also heard in the agreed statement of facts that neighbours told police about unusual responses by Ardis when he was asked where his wife was as their house was on fire.

Neighbours told police Ardis said she had left the day before at 4 p.m. in a Cadillac.

When asked if he was sure about that, neighbours said, he responded, “I don’t know. Maybe she’s in the basement.”

There was consensus by the Crown, defence and the judge in accepting Prakash’s assessment that Ardis was not criminally responsible for killing his wife.

“Mental illness isn’t like the flu, it isn’t here today and gone tomorrow,” Jacklin told The Chatham Daily News.

“It took awhile to complete the assessments and get the matter into court,” he said, adding, “it really went as quickly as it could.”

Jacklin said for quite awhile Ardis wasn’t even fit to stand trial.

“Getting his version of things was difficult – fortunately that problem was rectified.”

Ardis has been remanded into the custody of the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care where a review board will hold a hearing within 45 days.

Prakash said the federal government has set up review boards in various jurisdictions that consist of lawyers, a retired judge, a layperson and psychologist. He added an informal hearing, that also includes a Crown attorney and defence lawyer, is held to analyze the information to determine what will happen with people found not criminally responsible for a serious crime.

Prakash said the matter is reviewed annually to determine the risk level of a person.


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