A 32-year-old man with schizophrenia has gone on trial charged with murdering his mother at their Co Kilkenny home last year.
Niall Stapleton of Glebe Lodge, Kilfane, Thomastown has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Siobhan Stapleton (51) at that address on May 25, 2012.
She died of blunt force trauma to the head, after being beaten with the handle of a garden fork.
The Central Criminal Court heard that the accused initially told gardai he saw a man leaving the scene, but later admitted that he must have snapped and attacked his mother, causing her death.
He maintains that he is not guilty by reason of insanity.
His 22-year-old sister, Sinead Stapleton, testified today that she had just finished college for the year and was living at home with her brother and their parents at the time.
Their other three sisters lived elsewhere.
She confirmed that her brother had been on medication for schizophrenia for a number of years. However she didn’t believe he was taking it at the time as he was behaving erratically.
She said he had asked his mother why he had to take his medicine that week.
“He said she was trying to break his spirit,” said Ms Stapleton.
She cried as she recalled her mother’s response: “She just said she was trying to help him.”
She explained that her brother had gone to Australia to stay with his sister for a few months in 2011, but that their mother had to go out to bring him home.
He had gone off his medication, didn’t show up for his flight home and moved to a different city, where he was arrested and committed to a mental hospital.
She said she noticed that her brother was restless in the days before her mother’s death. He was talking to himself, laughing out loud in his room and had his television on all night.
She said there was fine weather at the time and the family had a barbecue the evening before her mother died.
The court heard that her brother was agitated at the gathering.
She said she heard her brother get up around 4am or 5am the following day, making a lot of noise going up and down the stairs.
She heard him ask their father, Peter Stapleton, if he could go to work with him, but the plumber told him he had no work for him that day.
She said her mother was in good form that day. The court had heard that she was singing along with the radio.
She said that her brother appeared restless, was walking around the garden and looking for his phone.
She said that she was on her laptop in the sitting room after 1pm and that her mother was doing laundry in the garage.
“I heard my mother gasp,” she said. “My initial reaction was that my dog had startled her. I went back to my laptop for about 30 seconds but then I thought it was strange.”
She said she went outside and found her mother lying on her side with serious injuries.
“I tried to speak to her but got no response,” she said.
She recalled being aware of her brother beside her and said he appeared to be in shock. She said he was perspiring and said he had seen a man leaving through the hedge.
She and her sister followed the ambulance to St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, where a decision was made to transfer her mother to Beaumont. They were 20 minutes into that journey when her mother died.
She agreed with Patrick Gageby SC, defending, that her brother had said that week that that anti-psychotic medication was a conspiracy by the Government to control people.
She agreed that he was acting inappropriately when the family was gathered in St Luke’s after her mother’s death.
He was having jovial conversations with people he thought he knew in the waiting room. He also said their mother was in a better place and that it would ‘harden up’ their father.
She agreed that her brother was much better now and said the family had maintained close contact with him since his admission to the Central Mental Hospital, shortly after his arrest.
Detective Inspector Michael Hennebry said that the accused had been diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis in 2006 and paranoid schizophrenia in 2008.
He said that he was not always compliant with taking his medication.
He said there had been tension between mother and son that week about this, but that he had no history of violence.
He said a post-mortem exam found 28 injuries, including multiple fractures of her skull and facial bones, along with lacerations and puncture wounds to her head. He said there was bruising to the brain tissue under the fractures.
He said that the handle of a garden fork was found in the grounds of her home and blood on it matched Mrs Stapleton’s DNA. The implement was shown to the jury.
The inspector said the accused was arrested for his mother’s murder after her funeral. When the reason for his arrest was explained to him, he replied: “I think you’re definitely wrong. She’s my mother.”
He said that no admissions were made until his fifth interview when he was asked if it came over him very suddenly.
“It must have, yeah,” he replied.
He was later shown the garden fork and asked why his mother’s blood would be on it.
“Unless someone hit her with it. Unless I lost control and hit her with it,” he said. “I can’t believe I’d do something like that. I should be in prison for life if I did.”
He said it wasn’t premeditated.
“Maybe I’m a danger to other people,” he said. “I’m afraid of losing my family.”
He said he couldn’t believe he would do that to his own mother, whom he loved.
“Something snapped,” he said. “Demons took over.”
He admitted making up the story about seeing a man leave their garden.
The jury of seven men and five women has been told it must decide if the accused was suffering from a mental disorder at the time he killed his mother.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Garret Sheehan.