Tuesday 22 August 2017

Man (34) who strangled girlfriend to death found not guilty of murder

Accused: Oisin Conroy and victim Natalie McGuinness
Accused: Oisin Conroy and victim Natalie McGuinness

Alison O'Riordan

A 34-year-old man who “believed he was in the Matrix” and strangled his girlfriend to death in order to save her, has been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Oisin Conroy told gardai there was a struggle in his mind "between the devil and Jesus" and that a voice came in his head saying he had to kill his then girlfriend Natalie McGuinness.

Mr Conroy with an address at St Joseph's Terrace, Boyle, Co Roscommon was charged with murdering Natalie McGuinness (23) at The Mews, Mail Coach Road in Sligo on October 28, 2015.

He was arraigned before the Central Criminal Court on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms McGuinness by reason of insanity.

Two consultant forensic psychiatrists gave evidence during the trial that Mr Conroy was suffering from schizophrenia and he would have been unable to refrain from his actions. They both said he met the requirements for the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Forensic psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Monks from the Central Mental Hospital, told the jury this morning that Mr Conroy was "in the throws of an acute psychotic episode" on October 28 which manifested itself in his delusional beliefs. "He believed he was in an alternate reality - the Matrix - and he was trying to escape from the Matrix,” he said.

Previously, defence counsel Mr Brendan Grehan SC, made a number of admissions on behalf of his client including that Mr Conroy accepted that by his acts he had caused the death of Ms McGuinness by strangulation. He also said the sole issue was the mental state of the accused.

The jury of six men and six women spent 24 minutes deliberating today before bringing in a unanimous verdict of not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

After they had delivered their verdict, Mr Justice Tony Hunt thanked the jury for their time. "It is obvious from the brief snippet of evidence which the court heard that Natalie was a very caring and kind person," he said.

The judge exempted them from jury service for the next seven years.

Mr Justice Hunt then made an order committing Mr Conroy to go to the Central Mental Hospital today and to be brought back before the court on July 17. The court heard that victim impact statements will be read on that date.

The judge also directed the preparation of a psychiatric assessment by an approved medical officer.

Mr Grehan said he had been asked on behalf of his client to express his deepest apologies and sorrow for his actions.

During the two-day trial, Detective Sergeant Patrick Harney from Sligo Garda Station gave evidence that Mr Conroy and Ms McGuinness had been in a relationship for four months prior to the incident. The deceased was good friends with the accused’s sister and began a relationship with Mr Conroy. They both had an interest in fitness and martial arts.

Ms McGuinness was dropped to Mr Conroy’s residence by her parents on the evening of October 27 and stayed the night. At 10am the following morning Mr Conroy made a 999 call to emergency services requesting an ambulance and paramedics. He said: “I’ve killed my friend, I’ve strangled her, I gave her a rear naked choke hold.”

Det Sgt Harney said that emergency services attended the scene and Ms McGuinness’ naked body was found on the floor of the bedroom. Mr Conroy was standing over the body in an aggressive stance, breathing heavily and his fists were clenched. He was tasered by gardaí and became subdued.

Ms McGuinness was unresponsive and resuscitation efforts were made at Sligo General Hospital but she was pronounced dead at 11.22am. Her cause of death was compression of the neck and strangulation. There was a lot of blood found at the scene but Chief State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy did not note any stab wounds or blood injuries to Ms McGuinness's body.

Mr Conroy had a significant head injury and his skull bone was on show. He had caused this laceration to himself using a knife, said Det Sgt Harney.

The accused told gardaí that Natalie was sleeping and he then strangled her with a rear naked choke which he had learned from Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "She struggled so hard, I knew I had to kill her, kill her, kill her,” he said.

The court heard there was a struggle in his mind "between the devil and Jesus" and that a voice had come into his head saying he had to kill Natalie.

Under cross examination by Mr Grehan, defending, Det Sgt Harney agreed with counsel that Mr Conroy was someone with a very bizarre thought process who did not interact as a normal person and he believed he was in the Matrix.

The witness said the accused displayed “complete detachment” during his garda interviews and it was as if he was in a different place. Mr Conroy had had a number of engagements with mental health services since 2009 and in the lead-up to this incident he was being weaned off anti-psychotic medication, he said.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Fiona Toal, from the Central Mental Hospital, said Mr Conroy was suffering from schizophrenia and his condition had persisted for months after the killing despite aggressive treatment in hospital. Mr Conroy’s condition may have been masked in earlier life due to his drug use, she said.

Mr Conroy had returned to education after a “chaotic family lifestyle” and had a number of previous criminal convictions for offences including burglary which were related to drug and alcohol abuse.

He was seen by an outpatient service in September 2015 and it was noted he had stopped taking his medication. This was six weeks before he strangled Ms McGuinness.

Dr Toal examined Mr Conroy in January 2017 and he told her he was upset because his mind had tricked him into killing someone. He said that he had not slept for days before the killing and on the morning he had tried to skin himself alive. Dr Toal said that Mr Conroy thought he was ‘in the Matrix’ and had to kill Natalie to save her. The accused said he thought he had done the right thing.

Dr Toal said family members had voiced concerns about his mental health but that no one could have foreseen the terrible things that could have happened. Mr Conroy did not know what he was doing was wrong and his thinking was confused with his fight between good and evil. She said Mr Conroy was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the offence and he would not have been able to refrain from killing Ms McGuinness.

A second forensic psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Monks from the Central Mental Hospital, told the jury this morning that Mr Conroy was suffering from schizophrenia. He said the accused would not have known the nature and quality of his act and would have not have been able to refrain from killing his then girlfriend.

Dr Monks said he met with Mr Conroy on June 6, 2017 where the accused outlined to him his family history, personal history, drug and alcohol history and his past psychiatric history.

The witness said the accused was suffering from an acute episode of schizophrenia on the day. He said Mr Conroy displayed illogical thinking and was going off on lengthy thought disorder monologues during his garda interviews.

Dr Monks said the accused had two psychiatric admissions prior to the offence, one in Roscommon services in 2014 and the other in Sligo in 2015. He said the assessments pointed to psychosis but were attributed to drug and alcohol abuse as well as personality disorder.

“With my assessment and the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that these were developing schizophrenia episodes,” he said. The doctor said that Mr Conroy will have to take anti-psychotic treatment as a life-long commitment and he will need to be supervised forever.

The witness said that Mr Conroy thought what he did was entirely morally justified and was unable to distinguish from what was real and what was not. “He was in the throws of an acute psychotic episode which manifested itself in his delusional beliefs. He believed he was in an alternate reality - the Matrix - and he was trying to escape from the Matrix,” he said.

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