Monday 25 September 2017

Childhood taunts and sex trauma changed killer

Court hears how sexual assault and schoolboy teasing changed Locke's personality forever, writes Eimear Cotter

MURDER CHARGE: Mum Sonia Blount was found strangled in a Tallaght hotel room
MURDER CHARGE: Mum Sonia Blount was found strangled in a Tallaght hotel room

Eimear Cotter

Murder accused Eric Locke was a relatively normal little boy, though perhaps a bit hyperactive, until two major events in his early teenage years changed him, the Central Criminal Court heard.

Psychiatrists told the court Mr Locke was sexually assaulted by a man between the ages of 12 and 13, and it was around this time he realised his penis was different to other boys'. Mr Locke was born with hypospadias, and was left with scars and a deformity of the penis after unsuccessful surgery.

The court heard Mr Locke was showering after a football match when he was about 12 or 13, and boys started taunting him about his penis. This greatly distressed him, as it made him feel different. From that point onwards, he changed.

So is Mr Locke just a bit odd, or does he suffer from a mental disorder, specifically pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and display some, but not all the features, of autism spectrum disorder and ADHD?

The trial of Eric Locke (35) for the murder of mum-of-one Sonia Blount heard from three expert psychiatric witnesses this week. They agreed these two traumatic events changed Mr Locke, and from then on he found it difficult mixing with people and developed anxiety symptoms. However, they differed as to what all that means.

Mr Locke, of St John's Park East in Clondalkin, has admitted he caused the death of Ms Blount but says he did not mean to kill her and is pleading the defence of diminished responsibility.

Ms Blount was found strangled and suffocated in a room in the Plaza Hotel in Tallaght on February 16, 2014. Mr Locke used a fake Facebook profile to meet her, whom he had briefly dated. He later told gardai he became "severely hurt and depressed" when she blocked him on Facebook, blanked him at work and told him to stop texting her.

First up for the defence was consultant psychiatrist Dr Sean O Domhnaill. He suggested Mr Locke's differences started earlier than his teens, saying he'd shown clear manifestations of autistic behaviour as a boy, including hand flapping, sensitivity to light and screeching. This behaviour and his depression was exacerbated by the major incidents in his early teens.

Dr O Domhnaill diagnosed Mr Locke with pervasive developmental disorder as well as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.

He said these conditions would have rendered Mr Locke incapable of being fully responsible for his actions when he killed Ms Blount as he was acting under a "compulsion". It was his belief Mr Locke went to the hotel with the intention of "tying Ms Blount to a chair and forcing her to listen to him" but "panicked when she panicked". He accepted Mr Locke may be "a compulsive liar".

Prosecution counsel, Remy Farrell SC, claimed Dr O Domhnaill never measured Mr Locke's account of what happened against "any other objective evidence in the case".

A second defence psychiatrist, Dr Richard Bunn, accepted Mr Locke could have chosen not to strangle Ms Blount and was not insane at the time. He said he did not believe Mr Locke's account he felt "outside his body" and "couldn't stop" when he strangled her.

However, he said Mr Locke did fulfil the criteria for diminished responsibility. He said a "constellation of symptoms" led him to this finding, including Mr Locke's PDD, his borderline personality traits, his adult ADHD, deformity and sexual abuse.

He accepted he had based his findings on Dr O Domhnaill's diagnosis that Mr Locke had PDD.

Mr Farrell put it to the jury that Dr Bunn "mashes everything up into a gloop and says it's diminished responsibility, but doesn't say how all these symptoms diminishes Mr Locke's responsibility".

The psychiatrist for the prosecution, Dr Frank Kelly, said he believed PDD was a "spurious diagnosis" and, in his view, Mr Locke has anankastic or obsessive personality disorder, which is not a mental illness. Dr Kelly said PDD was more commonly diagnosed in children before the age of six, and while Mr Locke was "a boy with some oddities", neither his family or teachers noticed any symptoms of PDD.

Dr Kelly said one of Mr Locke's sisters told him her brother became socially isolated around the age of 15 and his behaviour became repetitive and ritualistic, and this had continued into his adult life.

He said Mr Locke's deformed penis, his experience of his peer group commenting on it in the showers and his alleged sexual abuse was more likely the cause of his social anxiety and low mood than PDD.

Dr Kelly also said he watched the DVDs of the interviews which gardai conducted with Mr Locke and found "no evidence of a serious mental illness" as Mr Locke was able to describe in great detail the lead-up to Ms Blount's death as well as what happened afterwards.

Dr Kelly said he concurred with the opinion of gardai that Mr Locke was "angry" his girlfriend was meeting a stranger for sex in a hotel room and this "induced a rage" in him for "revenge and retribution". He said Mr Locke's intent when he strangled Ms Blount suggests "the motivation behind the act was one of extreme anger, not a mental illness".

In his closing speech last Friday, Mr Farrell reminded the jury the defence had asked its psychiatrists to proceed on the presumption that Mr Locke's account of what happened in the hotel was true. He said it was the State's case that Mr Locke's story was "all lies". He also said Mr Locke was diagnosed with a mental disorder only on the eve of his trial and told the jury "this should set off alarm bells for you".

However, defence barrister Patrick Gageby SC said Mr Locke had "always been different since his teens". He said his depression "didn't come from nowhere", citing his suicide attempt in January 2014 and contact with doctors at both Tallaght Hospital and Pieta House and he questioned Dr Kelly's assertion it "evaporated" when Mr Locke started messaging Ms Blount as Shane Cully. Mr Gageby also said the prosecution had not really challenged Dr O Domhnaill's findings of PDD.

The judge is expected to charge the jury tomorrow, and they will then begin their deliberations.

Sunday Independent

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