Deadly friendship linked to drug addiction and mental illness

Two men were using all kinds of drugs. They were really messed up, doing some pretty wild stuff,’ jurors hear in closing argument

There’s no doubt Brad Southwind and Joseph Topping’s friendship was a close friendship that was tragically grounded in drug addiction and mental health issues, jurors heard Thursday.

The consequences were tragic, predictable and avoidable, the Crown said, explaining why Southwind should be convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 stabbing death of his best friend.

What started as a dysfunctional friendship led to a plan to assassinate Topping, 31, because Southwind believed he wanted to die, prosecutor David Didiodato said.

“He thought carefully about his role as a friend and how best to help.”

Southwind believed he was a healer, helping and healing, and devised a plan to kill his friend, the assistant crown attorney said in his 50-minute closing argument.

The men were in Southwind’s flat, said their goodbyes, then went to walk 300 yards, along a path behind the building, to the scene of the murder.

Southwind had a sharp, black-handled knife that he took from his kitchen, pulled it out of his pocket, and stabbed Topping.

“It can’t be considered spontaneous,” Didiodato said. “The reason he stabbed Mr. Topping was to kill him.”

He knew his friend was in pain and “stabbed him again and again and again, 17 times”.

While Southwind initially denied involvement, he eventually admitted to stabbing Topping and continued to do so until the man was dead.

The defendant “knew he was dead because his eyes were open and he wasn’t breathing,” the Crown told jurors.

The more you stab someone with a fearsome weapon, like a knife, the greater the intent to cause death, Didiodato said.

The accused stabbed Topping in the neck, chest, face, head and back – the most vulnerable parts of his body.

“He stabbed to kill.”

The murder was planned and deliberate, and Southwind’s remorse led him to confess to police, Didiodato said.

Southwind and Topping were schizophrenic.

The defendant had chosen to stop taking his medication and turned to illicit drugs, but there is extremely little information about his illness at the time of the murder, he said.

Defense attorney Don Orazietti, pointing to Southwind in the prisoner’s box, told jurors “my client is sitting in a fishbowl with a blank stare, taking medicine with him.”

He admitted to deliberately killing Topping and pleaded guilty to manslaughter when arraigned for murder, Orazietti said.

The Crown rejected that plea and “we have a charge of planning and willful murder,” he said during his 40-minute closing argument.

Orazietti wondered how what happened was planned and premeditated.

Southwind suffers from schizophrenia, a major mental illness, is paranoid, does not take his medication and uses drugs.

His client said the two men were “taking all kinds of drugs. They were really messed up, doing some pretty wild stuff,” the defense said.

“He doesn’t have the ability to plan. He can’t plan his way out of a paper bag,” Orazietti told the jury. “It’s a break from reality.”

There’s no motive, Topping was his best friend and he’s very remorseful.

This murder is a terrible act, but 17 stabbings is a frenzy, an out-of-control person and fits perfectly with a detached state, Orazietti said.

A “first degree murder conviction is nothing less than a hanging”.

To say that this is a planned and premeditated homicide is to “turn your back on the problem (mental illness),” he suggested.

Southwind is a young Indigenous man, who grew up in an unstable situation with heavy drinking and some drug use, Orazietti said.

“He’s not here with fancy lawyers from Toronto…we have this photo. You have to make inferences.”

Orazietti attacked the prosecution’s presentation of his case, suggesting to jurors that he was choreographed to “annihilate what’s left” of his client and to impress them.

“They put on a show to get away from the bottom line (of the case).”

That’s what the Crown did here, “for revenge”, he said.

Prosecutors have tried to show that Southwind is responsible for first-degree murder.

“He pleaded for manslaughter, it was not accepted,” he said, calling it a “misguided prosecution” with all “the resources that the Crown could muster”.

Orazietti said the defendant is “the closest thing to a psychiatric report” because the jury can see what condition he is in.

“This case is about how we in society treat people with mental illness,” he said.

It’s not first-degree murder, but “the final decision is yours,” the veteran attorney told jurors.

“Do what your conscience tells you,” he said, urging them to convict his client of manslaughter.

Didiodato countered that there was no doubt that drug addiction and mental illness were involved in what happened.

But Southwind chose to stop taking his medication, decided to self-medicate with crystal meth, and decided to murder Topping.

“He is responsible and guilty of first degree murder,” the Crown said.

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