Man high risk to reoffend, court hears
Betty Ann Adam. Star - Phoenix. Saskatoon, Sask.

Sep 15, 2004. pg. A.5

A man involved in a violent home invasion in City Park two years ago has all the hallmarks of brain damage caused by his mother drinking alcohol while she was pregnant with him, a psychologist told his dangerous offender hearing Tuesday.

Mervin Otto, 45, pleaded guilty in May 2003 to robbery and breach of probation in connection with the crime, which occurred on June 26, 2002, at the Eighth Avenue North home of Josephine Oliver, 68.

The dangerous offender hearing will resume Thursday in Court of Queen's Bench.

Around 3 a.m. Oliver had answered a banging at her door expecting to see her daughter. Instead, she was confronted by Otto, then 43, and a 15-year-old male, who were intent on stealing valuables they could sell to buy alcohol, according to facts heard during an earlier court hearing.

Otto, who had been on a four-day drinking binge and was still drunk, entered the house first, pushing Oliver out of the way. The woman fought back, biting his hand and kicking at him, but the youth struck her more than once on the head with a hatchet.

As she lay bleeding on the floor, her assailants began stealing her possessions, stepping over her as they carried items to her car.

At one point Oliver told the assailants she thought her leg was broken and the youth responded by kicking her leg and asking if it hurt.

A neighbour who saw the pair loading Oliver's car called police, who pursued the stolen vehicle, which was driven by the youth. The chase ended when the stolen car smashed into Juliette's Dance Centre a few blocks away.

A presentence psychiatric assessment on Otto's court file reveals a childhood of living in 12 different foster homes in eight years by the time he was 10.

He was completely disconnected from his birth parents and extended family and had almost no contact with his siblings, the report says.

He has never had any long-term relationships or jobs and is a chronic alcoholic.

On Tuesday, psychologist Terry Nicholaichuk testified as an expert witness, saying Otto is a high risk to reoffend; he scored in the maximum range on two different assessment scales.

Otto was remarkably candid during the assessment process last fall, Nicholaichuk said.

"He's had a very chaotic and unfortunate history," he said.

There are no definitive tests to diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effect in adults, but both of Otto's parents were alcoholic and it is likely his mother drank while she was pregnant with him, Nicholaichuk said.

Like other people born to drinking mothers, he is unable to live independently, gets into trouble often and many of the problems are caused by alcohol or other substance abuse. He doesn't think things through or consider the social consequences of his actions and is prone to making the same mistakes over and over, Nicholaichuk said.

He is unable to transfer the knowledge he gains in treatment programs in prison to real-life situations, Nicholaichuk said. When he is released from jail he is not able to resist returning to alcohol.

"If he is affected by maternal drinking, he does not need active treatment but long-term support and structure," yet "that doesn't make him less dangerous," Nicholaichuk said.

"We need to help him create a new life. The problem is that extensive," he said.

In December 2002, the youth who was with Otto was sentenced to two years of secure custody and six months probation after he pleaded guilty to assault, robbery, uttering threats, dangerous driving and evading police. Fetal alcohol effect was also cited as an issue in his case.


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