WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A Hamilton man has been found not criminally responsible for stabbing and killing a stranger — renowned Niagara winemaker Paul Pender — who tried to help him in early 2022.
Court documents from the trial state when Bradley House stabbed the 54-year-old head winemaker for Tawse Wine and Spirits outside Pender’s cottage in Selkirk, Ont., House was “incapable” of rational thought and knowing what he did was morally wrong.
House, who pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, used drugs before the stabbing and had a history of mental health issues.
Crown attorney Gabe Settimi had argued the stabbing was drug induced while House’s lawyers, Beth Bromberg and Kristian Ferreira, argued the stabbing was caused by his mental health issues and delusions.
After a trial that began in late 2023, Superior Court Justice Michael Bordin ultimately sided with the defence on Wednesday, calling the incident “tragic” and a “Good Samaritan’s nightmare” in his reasons for judgment.
House won’t stay in jail but wasn’t acquitted either.
Instead, House will stay in the forensic psychiatry program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton West 5th Campus. The Ontario Review Board will determine how much of a risk he poses and how much freedom he’ll get.
“It’s the best possible outcome given a very tragic situation,” Bromberg told CBC Hamilton after the ruling was made.
“I will be surprised if there are any real privileges [for House] at this stage,” she said, adding he’ll need significant treatment for his mental health and addiction issues.
CBC Hamilton contacted Settimi for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.
The night of Pender’s death
The court documents detail the moments before, during and after the encounter between the two strangers.
The agreed statement of facts describe House, now 33, as addicted to cocaine and oxycodone and as someone who lived with mental health issues including hearing and delusions. He also had a “chaotic” upbringing.
Before meeting Pender, House was doing renovations at a home on Melville Lane in the town near Lake Erie — roughly a kilometre and a half away from Pender’s cottage — on Feb. 3, 2022, when his delusions started.
He ended up running to the cottage during a snowstorm. On the way there, he fell down a hill and started using a twig to try to remove what he thought was a camera in his ear.
It was roughly 8 p.m. when he showed up at Pender’s door.
House had no coat on, was “very distraught and bleeding from his mouth and head” when he entered the cottage.
House complained about having a stick in his head when there was no stick there.
Pender’s wife called 911 to help House while Pender used tweezers to pretend to take the non-existent stick out of House’s head.
House then grabbed a knife to get the imaginary twig out of his head.
“Somehow, Mr. Pender got tangled in Mr. House’s delusion,” Bromberg said in an interview.
The documents state a scuffle ensued before House ended up chasing Pender with a knife and stabbing him.
Pender eventually died of his injuries after his partner, police and paramedics tried to resuscitate him.
A medical assessment from the scene described House as “unintelligible, moaning, slurring, shaking, groaning and gurgling.”
Illness, not evil, caused stabbing: Bromberg
Bordin, the judge, along with two forensic psychiatry experts, concluded House had no memory of the stabbing.
Bromberg said House is “remorseful” and “in disbelief” that he killed Pender.
“It’s a nightmare for him and, of course, for Mr. Pender and his family,” she said.
Bromberg stressed what happened wasn’t House acting with ill intent — it was mental illness.
“It doesn’t change the tragedy, but it helps us understand a little bit more about how something like this could happen,” she said.
“It’s something that is rare and I don’t think we need to be afraid of mental illness but we do need to make sure the public is protected and people get the help they need.… I think Mr. House will get the help he needs.”
Pender lived in Grimsby, Ont., and leaves behind several children and grandchildren, and his wife.
News of his death in 2022 came as a shock to his family and friends, some of whom previously described him as “fun, positive and giving with his time.”
In a statement at the time, Tawse Winery said, “Paul died unexpectedly under tragic circumstances…. We will all miss him more than words can express. He was not just our manager, but our good friend as well.”
Flat Rock Cellars, where Pender’s wife worked, said in a Facebook post, “the sudden passing of … industry legend Paul Pender has shaken us to the core.”