Man on trial for murder of fellow patient in psychiatric unit pleads guilty to manslaughter
A man being tried for the murder of an elderly man in a psychiatric unit in Co. Cavan has changed his plea to guilty of manslaughter.
Ian Harman (50), of Carrickallen, Mountain Lodge, Cootehill, Co Cavan, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Michael Treanor (82) at the Psychiatric Unit of Cavan General Hospital, Lisdarn, Co Cavan on June 27, 2011.
The trial was in its closing stages but today Harman was rearraigned before the Central Criminal Court and pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty of manslaughter.
Paddy McCarthy SC prosecuting told the court that the plea was acceptable to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the basis of Section 6 of the Criminal Law Insanity Act.
Under the Act the jury or court may find the person not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility.
Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan thanked the jury of six men and six women and told them that the case had concluded.
Mr Justice Sheehan remanded Harman in custody for sentencing on October 6 next.
Mr Treanor was suffering from dementia and Harman was admitted to the unit on June 20, 2011 as a voluntary patient after attempting suicide.
Harman, who is originally from England, smothered the elderly man with a pillow after strangling him with a belt. He had admitted killing him but denied murder.
His legal team argued he was not guilty of murder either by reason insanity or diminished responsibility.
Caroline Biggs SC with Breffni Gordon BL instructed by Damien Rudden solicitors, claimed he was suffering from a mental illness as an anti-psychotic medication Harman was taking had been withdrawn the day after he was admitted to the unit.
Two defence witnesses claimed that the withdrawal of olanzapine caused him to suffer from akathisia, an inner restlessness, which caused Harman to feel suicidal and pace up and down the unit constantly in the days before the killing.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Bob Johnson and clinical pharmacologist Dr Andrew Herxheimer gave evidence for the defence that Harman was suffering from the syndrome, which they said was a mental disorder.
Dr Johnson said Harman’s responsibility for the killing was not only diminished, it was destroyed and that he was unable to refrain from the act meaning he was insane.
Consultant psychiatrist Professor Jogin Thakore testified that there was no evidence that olanzapine, when abruptly stopped, caused akathisia.
He testified that withdrawal akathisia it was not a mental disorder under the Insanity Act.
Dr Johnson gave evidence that Harman beat his wife with a baseball bat and had to be hospitalised.
He also said that he was aware Harman seriously assaulted another prisoner by repeatedly striking with a brush.
Mary Harman told the court that she married Harman in 1993 after a five-year courtship.
She described her husband as a “happy-go-lucky” individual who was “soft-natured and loveable” and “well-liked in the community”, despite the fact that he had been previously treated for depression and alcohol misuse.
The witness agreed with Ms Biggs that from 2009 her husband had been in a “dark place” after his mental condition worsened.
Mrs Harman agreed with counsel’s assertion that “in drunkenness” the accused “wasn’t a good husband”.
Detective Garda Kieron King interviewed him after he had been taken into custody and cautioned at Cavan garda station hours after the offence.
Det Gda King’s notes described how Harman said he felt “inadequate as a father” and had been “fantasising about ways of getting into prison”.
Harman said he had also considered killing “a couple of his neighbours” prior to his admission to hospital.
He then informed Det Gda King: “I have been thinking of killing Michael Treanor for a couple mornings now.”
Harman also told the detective that he believed he had his “wits about him” at the time of the offence and that he chose Mr Treanor as his alleged victim, who had been suffering from dementia, because the 82-year-old was an “easy target”.
He said: “I knew exactly what I was doing when I killed Michael Treanor. He was an easy target. He was an old man who had dementia. He did not seem to have any life but that did not give me the right to kill him.”
Harman also described to Det Gda King how Mr Treanor’s body gave a jolt after he strangled him with a belt and placed a pillow over his face to suffocate him.
He said: “There was movement from him as I tightened the belt. He gave a jolt. I then got off the bed, leaving the pillow over his face.”
State pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy, who carried out the post-mortem on the deceased, told the court that when she examined the deceased there were “signs of lack of oxygen prior to death”.
Dr Cassidy said she concluded that the cause of death had been “asphyxia principally to smothering or suffocation”.