A man accused in the murder of his roommate appeared in an Ottawa courtroom Friday for the first time and his lawyer immediately raised the prospect that he is mentally ill.   

25-year-old Keith Ru has been charged with second degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Jai Le Zhao.

Ru entered the courtroom looking disheveled with his hair sticking up and scratches on his face. He also smiled during most of the proceedings.

Zhao’s body was discovered early Thursday morning in the apartment he shared with Ru at 1189 Meadowlands Drive after police were called to the building around 3 a.m.

“I believe him to be at this very early stage to be a very sick young man and I think there are psychological, psychiatric issues that certainly need to be looked,” said Ru’s lawyer, Oliver Abergel.

Abergel met his client for the first time Friday. He believes Ru is a Canadian citizen who has not been in trouble with the law before.

It is believed Ru’s first language is Cantonese, not English. A translator was provided but Ru declined the service. In court Ru said he understood what was going on, but Abergel said there is some uncertainty about that.

“I think the court had its own doubts,” Abergel said. “I’m not going to give my opinion on that but clearly there are mental health concerns.”

Abergel said it is too early to say whether a psychiatric evaluation will be ordered.

Ru’s family travelled from Toronto to attend court Friday. Abergel said he’s not sure how long Ru and Zhao had been roomates but that both men attend post-secondary school in Ottawa.

Ru remains in custody. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13 by video link.

With a report from CTV’s Katie Griffin