Wednesday 25 April 2018

The Bellante case: Bizarre fixation led to cannibal chess slaying

The Bellante case gripped the nation but the verdict was never in doubt

The killer Saverio Bellante
The killer Saverio Bellante
MACABRE AND BIZARRE: The house in the leafy suburb of Castleknock where O’Gorman was killed and his body mutilated
Victim Tom O'Gorman
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

We may never know what opinion the jury foreman was forbidden from expressing at the conclusion of the murder trial of Saverio Bellante. But it would be understandable if he felt inclined to deliver some editorial after being politely asked to make a choice that was not really a choice. The judge had already told the jury that any other decision than not guilty by reason of insanity would be contrary to logic. Two consultant psychiatrists - one more than legally required -had pointed out that Bellante satisfied the criteria. And in truth, the drama of the trial did not centre at all around the tensions of the verdict but on the strange coincidences and macabre details of the case.

The first came with the night of the murder itself - January 11 of last year. The victim, 39-year-old Tom O'Gorman, was a devoutly religious man, a minister of the Eucharist and a researcher with the Iona Institute.

The Catholic advocacy group was at that point unknown to much of the Irish public but would feature heavily in the news over the following months because of statements made that night by Rory O'Neill, aka Panti Bliss, on The Saturday Night Show. The statements triggered near-instant threats of legal action from journalist John Waters and several member of the Iona Institute.

On the same night, Tom O'Gorman played chess with his Italian lodger, Saverio Bellante, whom he had met through an international religious group.

Bellante had problems which extended back into his early life. He would later tell psychiatrists that he believed that his father had mental-health issues and that his mother suffered from depression. He said that when they argued he took up the role of peacemaker. His family did not have much money and he was sent to a technical college, where he studied accountancy.

As he grew older, however, his mental health issues became apparent. Bellante was prescribed anti-psychotic medication after showing signs of stress by praying all day without rest and was hospitalised in Palermo in 2005. His mental illness had caused huge disruption in his life; the court would later hear that it took him 10 years to complete his primary degree and an eight-year relationship with a woman also broke down.

He visited Ireland periodically from 2002-2003 and worked here as a waiter and played in a band. Bellante met Tom O'Gorman through a group called Focolare, which promotes the word of Jesus and later said he loved O'Gorman "as a friend".

Upon moving full-time to Ireland in 2011, he found work in a call centre. He also came into contact with mental-health services and visited a clinic roughly every two months. He rented a room in Mr O'Gorman's house in Castleknock - which was also the home where Mr O'Gorman had grown up - in November 2013.

Despite his doctor in Italy being of the opinion that he should remain on medication for the rest of his life, the decision was taken by a doctor in Dublin that Bellante should stop taking Olanzapine, the anti-psychotic medication which he was on. The dose was reduced in January 2012 until Bellante finally stopped taking the drug entirely on January 9, 2014.

Over the following 48 hours he became progressively more unwell and began to become preoccupied by signs of what he interpreted as good and evil. On the fateful night of January 11, 2014, he and Tom O'Gorman played a game of chess. During the game, Bellante thought that Tom O'Gorman was looking at him strangely and made a call to a friend, Brendan Gallagher, asking him to mediate about a dispute about the game. He also called his sister in Italy and made reference to the mafia and omertà, which she took as an ominous sign.

Bellante later told psychiatrists that his landlord had made a poor move and when he, Bellante, moved his own king to take advantage, O'Gorman "freaked out" and called the move "stupid and perverse". Believing he was Jesus, Bellante attacked Tom O'Gorman with a knife and a dumbbell, cutting out his right lung (which he believed to be O'Gorman's heart) and brought it to the kitchen, where he claimed he ate it.

In the early hours of the morning, Bellante called 999 and gardai soon arrived on the gruesome scene.

As the case was reported, Tom O'Gorman's colleagues and friends at the Iona Institute had to deal not only with the grief at the loss of their colleague and friend, but also the public opprobrium that followed the legal settlements made with some members of the institute by RTE.

The national broadcaster would also refer to "sensitivity" following the death of Mr O'Gorman in a statement explaining its reasons for removing Rory O'Neill's interview from the RTE Player.

In the days after Mr O'Gorman's death, the Iona Institute organised a candlelit vigil to commemorate him. David Quinn, the institute's director, acted as one of the pallbearers at the funeral, where Mr O'Gorman's "cheery banter" and "fast-moving" mind were recalled by the Bishop Of Limerick, Brendan Leahy.

He told the congregation: "The virtuous man, though he died before his time, will find rest." Mr O'Gorman's family and friends grieve his loss still.

The verdict will bring little relief but Bellante's indefinite incarceration at the Central Mental Hospital may provide some closure after one of the more gruesome and bizarre murder trials in memory.

Sunday Independent

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