Wednesday 15 August 2018

Man (33) who stabbed pregnant sister 'didn't understand what he was doing', court hears

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

Andrew Phelan

A MENTALLY ill man who stabbed his pregnant sister four times in the back because she was “carrying a Dublin baby” did not properly understand that what he was doing was wrong, psychiatrists have said.

Daniel O’Connell (33) knew at the time he attacked his sister it was against the law, but could not appreciate that it was morally wrong, the Central Criminal Court heard.

The accused’s aversion to the thought of his unborn niece being raised in Dublin had preyed on his mind so much he reached a “point of inevitability” a consultant for the defence said.

As a result, the accused would not have been able to refrain from stabbing his sister, he said.

Both defence and prosecution psychiatrists concluded that O’Connell suffered from a mental disorder and that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity was open to the jury.

Daniel O’Connell from Rosemount, Newpark, Co Kilkenny, is pleading not guilty to the attempted murder of his sister Olivia O’Connell (42) at Scholarstown Park, Scholarstown Road, Knocklyon in Dublin on April 25, 2016.

The court has heard Mr O’Connell, who has Asperger’s Snydrome, had developed an “unnatural, almost pathological dislike” of Dublin before he attacked his sister, who was also undergoing cancer treatment at the time.

Both she and her baby survived the attack.

The facts of the case are admitted by the defence, but the jury will be asked to consider among its verdict options one of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr Paul O’Connell, a consultant forensic psychiatrist said the accused told him at the age of 13 he was on a trip to Mosney when he was bullied by a “group of lads” with Dublin accents who teased him on hearing a telephone conversation he had with his mother, Dr O’Connell said.

He had a loud voice and was ridiculed for shouting out “yes mummy, no mummy,” the court heard.

As a child, Mr O'Connell was obsessed with traffic lights and peers would call him “green man.”

On another occasion, seven years ago, the accused said a Dublin taxi driver had refused to take his dog.

He described having thoughts about killing his sister for years before they became more definite in December 2015.

Mr O'Connell said he began wishing she would have a natural death so he would avoid having to kill her.

The accused felt this dilemma “would be resolved for him” when she was diagnosed with cancer.

He continued to “ruminate” about killing her.

Dr O’Connell also spoke to the accused’s mother, and from this his report stated his sister was “obviously very angry over the unprovoked attack on her.”

In his conclusions, Dr O'Connell said the evidence supporting a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder was consistent with a mental disorder as set out in the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act.

“In my opinion the alleged offence would not have occurred if not for the mental disorder operating at the material time,” he said. “It was such that the accused’s capacity to form the necessary intent was negated.”

Although he found that the accused knew the nature and quality of his actions, questions arose as to whether he knew what he was doing was wrong, or whether he was capable of refraining from it.

It was Dr O’Connell’s belief that the accused’s behaviour arose from an idiosyncratic, abnormal belief about the raising of his sister’s child in Dublin, originating from a humiliating childhood experience.

The tenacious nature with which he held this idea was in Dr O’Connell’s opinion “of delusional intensity.”

Mr O'Connell's conviction that he had to kill his sister was not understandable and supported Dr O’Connell’s opinion that the accused was delusional at the material time.

Although the accused knew what he was doing was legally wrong, his capacity to appreciate the moral significance of his actions was impaired, Dr O’Connell found.

There was evidence the accused had spent a vast amount of time deliberating the course of his actions. His sister’s pregnancy “preyed on his mind” to the extent that he was approaching a “point of inevitability” where no other course of action opened up as an alternative to him.

“In that, he would have been unable to refrain from what he did,” Dr O’Connell said.

Consultant Psychologist Dr Anthony Kearns then gave evidence for the prosecution.

He said he could not elicit any clear delusional ideas from the accused.

“He still harbours views about Dubliners on the basis of what appears to be quite tenuous reasoning,” he said. “He developed a profound and enduring resentment for Dublin people to the point he thought it would be appropriate to kill his sister and her unborn child to prevent the child being born in Dublin.”

The accused’s plan to kill his sister had been narrow and he had no clear plan for what he was going to do following her death.

Mr O’Connell’s overall intellectual function was on the “borderline range of intellectual disability.”

“He still shows extremely little understanding of the inappropriateness of his catastrophic action its effect on others,” Dr Kearns said.

The accused had said he would not commit any such further acts but could only frame it in terms of its consequences rather than empathy for the victim or others.

Dr Kearns also concluded Mr O’Connell was suffering from a mental disorder under the Insanity Act and had a restricted ability to understand other people’s emotions.

He had difficulties dealing with actual and perceived threats and his understanding of what constitutes a threat was compromised because of his autism.

“At the time of the offence he set out on a course of action which would have appeared irrational and dangerous to a person without his disorder but to him it appeared necessary,” Dr Kearns said.

“He did not properly understand that what he was doing was wrong,” he said, adding that he believed the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity was “available and appropriate.”

Closing speeches by the prosecution and defence will be heard tomorrow.

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