Inquest into Myles Sanderson death hears from final witnesses; jurors begin deliberations

Coroner Robert Kennedy, K.C. is presiding over the inquest into the death of Myles Sanderson. The inquest is taking place at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Monday, February 26, 2024. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

Julia Peterson
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
A psychologist and an emergency room physician were the final two witnesses to testify at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Myles Sanderson, before the six jurors began their deliberations early Thursday afternoon.
Sanderson, 32, killed 11 people and injured 17 others during a stabbing rampage on James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby community of Weldon on Sept. 4, 2022. He died in police custody on Sept. 7, 2022 from what was determined to be a cocaine overdose. He was caught after an extensive manhunt that ended in a high-speed chase near Rosthern.
Dr. Matt Logan, a psychologist and former RCMP officer, performed a post-mortem behavioural analysis on Myles Sanderson — essentially, a “psychological autopsy” exploring Sanderson’s actions in the days before his death.
Logan also testified before the inquest into the deaths on James Smith Cree Nation and in Weldon. At this inquest, his testimony focused not on the mass killings, but on the days after the attacks.
In Logan’s opinion, Sanderson was a “mission-oriented offender,” intending to kill specific people who he felt were affiliated with the Terror Squad gang or who had harmed or wronged him in some way.
“It’s not an impulsive act,” Logan said. “It’s targeted. It’s goal-directed, and sometimes that reason is revenge, as it was in this case. … A mission-oriented offender is someone who is well-prepared and intent on committing the crime, despite the risk to self or others.”
After killing his final victim in Weldon, Sanderson made camp in the Wakaw/Crystal Springs area, and repeatedly broke into a woman’s home to steal food, drinks and bedding.
On Sept. 7, he broke into her home again — this time, smashing through a window and breaking down a door, knife in hand, to get to her.
“When he finally decided to make contact with the victim, she was terrified,” Logan said. “She had heard everything — this was three days (after the attacks on James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon). She knew exactly who this person was.”
Sanderson wanted to take her vehicle, and asked the woman for cigarettes and water as well — she gave him all three. But when he wanted to take her with him, she refused.
Logan doesn’t think Sanderson was trying to take the woman as a hostage: He seemed to think that having a second person in the vehicle with him might help throw police off his trail.
“I don’t believe he was trying to take her as a bargaining chip,” Logan said. “She was just someone who would make the vehicle look less suspicious.”
And, while the woman was and remains traumatized by what happened to her, Logan said, Myles never physically attacked her. Logan explained that she wasn’t one of the targets of his mission, and had given him most of what he asked for.
“He let somebody live — didn’t harm anybody — so long as they gave him what he wanted,” he said.
Driving the stolen vehicle, Sanderson headed towards Saskatoon. Knowing what he knows now, Logan thinks Sanderson’s mission was not over yet.
“I think he still really had in his mind that there was somebody in Saskatoon that would have been part of that mission,” Logan said. “We came to the belief that his ex-wife was going to be the target in Saskatoon, and that probably would have ended the mission.”
But shortly after Sanderson left the One Arrow First Nation — where he had tried unsuccessfully to change vehicles again — police were on his trail, and the high-speed chase down the highway began.
During the chase, especially when driving south in the northbound lanes, RCMP officers noted that Sanderson seemed to be aiming for oncoming vehicles. However, he never actually caused a head-on collision.
Logan thinks this is because, while Sanderson at that point “had this ambivalence about whether he died or not,” he wasn’t actively trying to die either.
“If he wanted to die and go out in a ‘blaze of glory,’ he would have done it in a much different way,” Logan said.
After his death, Sanderson was found to have an extremely high level of cocaine in his system, an amount a forensic pathologist described as being over 10 times a lethal dose.
Sanderson was an experienced cocaine user. It had been his “drug of choice” in the years before his death, and “he used it considerably,” Logan said.
Sanderson’s medical records from his time in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary also show a history of suicidal thoughts, and he told doctors he had tried to kill himself by “popping a bunch of pills” when he was 28.
Despite that, Logan would not call Sanderson’s death a suicide.
“‘Why waste good cocaine?’ ” Logan said, explaining his view of Sanderson’s thought process. “‘If I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out my way.’ In our belief, he was not taking the cocaine in order to die, but he didn’t care whether he died our not …
“It is our belief that the cocaine toxicity was not an attempted suicide, but an accidental overdose.”
Dr. William Papenfus — who was the attending emergency room physician at Royal University Hospital on the day of Sanderson’s arrest — told the coroner’s inquest on Thursday that he declared Sanderson dead at 4:39 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2022.
Sanderson had been brought in by ambulance, after collapsing at the side of the road minutes after being arrested.
Papenfus recounted the situation at the hospital as the ambulance was on its way, and as paramedics informed the emergency room team about what they could expect.
“We’d heard there was a suspicion that he might have ingested a white powder (and) fairly rapidly deteriorated, from what sounded like an excited state to having a cardiac arrest,” Papenfus said.
After Sanderson arrived at the hospital that afternoon, his condition never improved.
After Logan’s testimony, presiding coroner Robert Kennedy instructed the six jury members to begin their deliberations. They will make an official determination of what happened in this case, and may also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.
“Having the inquest is a very valuable and necessary public function, because it brings to the public’s attention the circumstances surrounding deaths,” Kennedy explained.