Kenneth Wallis’s daughters remember their dad as a man who, despite his struggles with addiction, loved and valued them more than anything else.

But during the trial of his killer, Robert Charnock, 42, they heard only a snapshot of their 56-year-old father’s life at a London boarding house on Dec. 8, 2021, when he suffered 23 sharp force injuries from a machete in the hands of a man convinced Wallis had tried to kill him with bad drugs.

“He had his struggles, but we managed to get through them,” said Ashley Johnston, 36, Wallis’s stepdaughter who said he was addicted to fentanyl that was exacerbated by the death of his wife and a granddaughter.

While the evidence clearly pointed to Charnock as the killer, it was a distinct lack of evidence of motive and intent that led Superior Court Justice Helen Rady to decide he was guilty of manslaughter, not second-degree murder as he was charged.

kenneth wallis
Kenneth Wallis’s daughters Ashley Johnston, 36, left and Sherry Wallis, 34, say they are disappointed the man who stabbed their father to death, Robert Charnock, 42, was found guilty of manslaughter, not second-degree murder as he was charged on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. Kenneth Wallis, 56, died on Dec. 8, 2021, from multiple stab wounds at a Wharncliffe Road rooming house. (Jane Sims/The London Free Press)

That was disappointing for Johnston and Sherry Wallis, 34, but they took some solace in knowing that their father’s neighbour, who suffers from a variety of mental health and addiction issues, will still bear responsibility for their father’s death.

“I was just hoping he was found guilty,” Sherry Wallis said. “Something is better than nothing. I just didn’t want him to go walking free and doing it again to someone else — a child or a senior that’s on the street that makes him upset.”

The trial began last fall and in the last days of evidence it focused on whether Charnock could be found guilty but not criminally responsible of second-degree murder because of a mental defect.

Rady noted at the outset of her decision that the Crown conceded it had not met the threshold for that decision, leaving the judge to decide whether Charnock was guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

What police found on that late December night was disturbing. Rady reviewed the evidence, starting with the accounts of other residents of the London boarding house hearing a scuffle and Wallis crying out in pain and needing help.

He was found outside his room covered in blood with injuries on his left side. An autopsy later showed that he had been hit so hard by the weapon, he had a skull fracture, a leg fracture and deep, extensive wounds to his head, neck, hand and arm.

The large blood-covered knife was found in Wallis’s room.

Meanwhile, Charnock — jumpy, paranoid, dishevelled and dirty, wearing a black T-shirt, tights and shorts — walked many blocks to the Victoria Hospital emergency department and announced he was there for his mental health. He might have cut someone with a machete, or he was hallucinating and he needed to wash the blood off his hands.

He didn’t sit in the waiting room, but paced. He said he was schizophrenic, hadn’t slept and was off his medication. He got into an argument with another patient, convinced she was trying to take his picture.

Charnock told a nurse that he thought he might have “hacked someone up,” then asked for a COVID-19 shot so he could visit his mom. He calmed down and  when the police arrived, Charnock was sitting on the floor of a quiet room and said “I surrender.”

He was co-operative, saying he didn’t want to call a lawyer but would exercise his right not to say anything. But then Charnock would lose focus, get angry, emotionless and suddenly laugh. He would talk about peregrine falcons, martial arts and working as a security guard.

Charnock looked up at a picture on the wall. “Isn’t that a cool picture? It’s a forest. Look Forest City and whoo, I’m back.”

When officers said he was charged with murder, he asked what level of murder. He said sometimes he would be consumed by rage and would lash out.

“If it’s the right person that died, that makes me happy because that guy is a (expletive) goof,” he told the police.

When Charnock was escorted to a police van, he said, “I guess you guys know I took out some garbage tonight,” and later gave a fist pump, saying “Kill confirmed.”

Kenneth Wallis
A London police investigator enters Wharncliffe Lodging at 256 Wharncliffe Rd. S. in London on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, as police probe the death of Kenneth Wallis, 56, who was taken to hospital with serious injuries the day before and later died. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

In a police interview, Charnock said he was very tired and hadn’t slept for a week. He sometimes had auditory hallucinations.

He said a month earlier, Wallis gave him some fentanyl. Charnock overdosed and had to be resuscitated. When he left hospital, his medication and money had been stolen. He blamed Wallis.  “He deserves to be murdered,” he told the police “He’s a goof with a capital G.”

For second-degree murder, the Crown had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Charnock meant to kill Wallis or cause bodily harm that was likely to kill Wallis and was reckless whether he died or not.

Rady said she had to be “satisfied that his guilt is the only rational inference can be drawn from the whole of the evidence” and that “the accused’s mental state is front and centre in the analysis” of the case.

Two psychiatrists who testified agreed Charnock has a variety of mental health diagnoses including an anti-social personality disorder, with traits of borderline personality disorder, schizo-effective disorder and alcohol and cannabis use disorder.

“Both doctors said lack of sleep, unstructured living environment, diminished sense of security, loss of medication, isolation, disconnect from family, alcohol and street drug use and the pandemic would exacerbate his existing mental health issues,” Rady said.

There was no evidence of what happened before Charnock stabbed Wallis, where the knife came from and no eye witnesses of the attack. The 23 injuries could have been the result of “a brutal frenzied attack that could be consistent with either murderous intent or a loss of control,” Rady said.

And clearly, Charnock “suffers from a serious mental illness” and he “likely had an existing urge to harm the deceased, although there is no evidence the urge was murderous,” she said.

Though the attack might have been intentional, all of the stresses in his life were “causing him to act impulsively and without thinking of the consequences to the deceased,” the judge said.

“Accordingly, there are two equally plausible inferences that are available on the evidence,” Rady said, and the Crown hadn’t proved its case for second-degree murder. “The accused is guilty of manslaughter.”

A pre-sentence report was ordered. The case returns to court Aug. 21 to set a date for sentencing.

Wallis’s daughters said the picture painted of their father in court wasn’t the man they knew, who was someone who loved his family, struggled but was trying, and was caught in an addiction to opioids that started after a leg injury.

“It’s really, really, really tough,” Johnston said. “That wasn’t my dad.”

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