Thursday 21 June 2018

Defence asks jury for verdict of 'not guilty by reason of insanity' in trial of man who stabbed pregnant sister

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin

Andrew Phelan

The jury in the trial of a man who stabbed his pregnant sister in the back has been told the “appropriate verdict” is not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

However, the six men and six women were advised that although all the evidence in the trial of Daniel O'Connell went one way, the matter was “entirely in their hands.”

Barristers for the both the prosecution and defence were delivering their closing speeches today.

The jury retired just before midday to begin deliberations in the trial of Mr O’Connell (33), who stabbed his sister Olivia (42) in a knife attack at her home but denies attempted murder.

The accused, from Rosemount, Newpark, Co Kilkenny, pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of Ms O’Connell at her home at Scholarstown Park, Scholarstown Road, Knocklyon in Dublin on April 25, 2016.

The Central Criminal Court has heard Mr O’Connell  had developed an “unnatural, almost pathological dislike” of Dublin and its people when he decided he had to kill his sister.

Ms O’Connell, who was being treated for cancer at the time, survived and her baby was born healthy.

The jury had heard Mr O’Connell, who has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism, did not want his sister’s unborn child to be brought up in the capital and his “profound and enduring resentment” towards Dublin people that stemmed from a humiliating childhood incident in which he was teased by other boys on a trip to Mosney.

The jury retired at 11.49am after brief closing speeches by the prosecution and defence and after being charged by Mr Justice Paul Butler.

Michael Bowman SC, prosecuting, said the accused had openly admitted his intention to kill his sister to the gardai. Because the facts of the case were admitted, “his state of mind is where the true battleground in this case lies,” he said.

Mr Bowman said no dispute arose between the prosecution and the defence in relation to the defendant’s state of mind.

There was a very comprehensive report from consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul O’Connell, on behalf of the defence. Dr Anthony Kearns, for the prosecution, “equally went through the entire history of the accused.”

He too came to a similar conclusion, that Mr O’Connell suffered from a mental disorder under the Insanity Act.

He said it appeared the psychiatric evidence was “in conformity” with a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity but told the jury “ultimately it is a matter for you.”

“I can do no more than suggest to you that the appropriate verdict is not guilty by reason of insanity,” he said. “Ultimately, it is a matter for yourselves.”

Vincent Heneghan SC, defending said he agreed entirely with everything Mr Bowman had said and was not going to repeat any of it.

“I ask you to return a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity,” he said.

Mr Justice Paul Butler said the jury might wonder why they were there, but told them their role was “vitally important.” It was proper that the decision was entirely in their hands.

“It is very difficult not to express a view in the case because all the evidence went one way,” he said, but told the jury to ignore any views on the facts unless they coincided with the jury’s own views.

“That is not just a fancy theory, it is a very necessary matter,” he said.

He advised the jury that in law, while in a murder case intent to kill or cause serious harm was enough for a finding of guilt, for attempted murder, the prosecution must prove an actual intention to kill.

“As to what occurred, it must indeed have been an absolutely horrendous experience for the victim in this case, she was vulnerable, she was pregnant, she was suffering from an illness. It was a horrendous attack and she has my greatest sympathy in that,” he said.

In relation to the medical evidence, he said the doctors did not simply come in to court and say the accused suffered from an illness under the Act.

They went into “minute detail” to show that “this wasn’t a madey-up diagnosis.”

He referred to Dr O’Connell’s conclusion that while the accused knew the nature and quality of his actions and knew what he was doing was legally wrong “his capacity to appreciate the moral significance of his actions was impaired.”

The accused reached some “point of inevitability” after which he there was no other course of action he could weigh up and consider as an alternative and in that he would have been unable to refrain from doing what he did.”

Dr Kearns had come to the same conclusion, the judge said.

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