Jacob Forman killed his family as he was going through an extreme case of alcohol withdrawal, his lawyer says.
In a surprise development Thursday at the Kelowna courthouse, Forman changed his plea from not guilty and admitted to the first degree murder of his two young children and the second-degree murder of his wife Clara.
Crying and not lifting his head, Forman paused after the reading of each charge — done for the second time in just three days — and said "Guilty" to each count.
The trial was adjourned until Sept. 16 at 10 a.m. for sentencing by Justice Allan Betton. Crown counsel will be seeking consecutive sentences, while defence lawyer Raymond Dieno will ask for concurrent sentences.
A conviction for first-degree murder means no possibility of parole for 25 years. Conviction for second-degree murder means no possibility of parole for between 10 and 25 years, with the term set by the judge.
Outside the courthouse, Dieno told reporters that Forman was a functioning alcoholic at the time he killed his wife and daughters in the family's Rutland home in late December 2017.
Forman had suddenly stopped drinking alcohol and was going through severe withdrawal symptoms, Dieno said.
Given his alcoholism, Forman originally believed he had a defence to offer to the murder charges. "He was of the view that he had a mental state defence," Dieno said.
But a report from an expert retained by the defence apparently did not convince Forman that such a trial strategy would be successful.
"The report from the expert was such that (Forman) thought he should plead guilty," Dieno said.
The manner in which Forman killed his wife and two daughters, age seven and eight, has not been made public. The Crown and defence will enter an agreed statement of facts, as well as their sentencing recommendations, on Sept. 16.
Police were called to the Forman's home on Bolotzky Court the night of Dec. 19, 2017, after Clara's friends became concerned about her whereabouts and welfare. Forman initially denied police entry, but they returned and found the bodies in a garage.
The couple were married in 2005. Forman, 35, was an alcoholic who had come to realize his drinking was having an adverse effect on his family, Dieno told reporters. On the day he killed his family, however, Forman was sober, Dieno said.
"He was actually in a process of withdrawal. He was of the view that he was not helping his family by being so alcoholic," Dieno said. "He wanted to withdraw, but he tried to withdraw without support or treatment, and that obviously led to devastating consequences."
Dieno would not elaborate on the specific events leading up to the killings.
Almost 21 months elapsed between the time of Forman's arrest and his guilty plea. He changed lawyers once.
Earlier this week, court heard that Forman confessed to police on Dec. 27, 2017, and made confession-like statements to his brother and his pastor, and in letters to family friends.
On Tuesday, when the trial began and Forman was asked how he pleaded, he answered: "I am responsible, but I'm not guilty of what the Crown is saying".
Asked Thursday what his client meant by the unusual phrasing, Dieno said Forman didn't understand that the two charges of first-degree murder, laid against him for killing his children, did not require a certain amount of planning for a conviction to result.
"He didn't have the intent to plan and deliberate the death of his children. But what he didn't understand is planning and deliberation (can) be momentary, within a minute. He had a hard time understanding that concept," Dieno said.
"That realization really hit home this morning," and led to the three guilty pleas, Dieno said.
The Crown will seek a total sentence of 35 years for Forman; 25 years concurrently for the first-degree murders of his children, plus 10 years for the second-degree murder of his wife. Dieno will ask for 25 years' imprisonment.
Although consecutive sentences have been handed down in cases elsewhere in Canada, Dieno said that hasn't yet occurred in B.C.
"In B.C., there hasn't been a case where multiple murders have resulted in consecutive sentences," he said. "The defence view is, 'Look, life is life, whether it's 25, 35, or 50 years. This is a 35-year-old man who might be 60, 70, 80, when he's out on the street, with no friends, no family."