Thursday 17 October 2019

Tom O'Gorman murder trial: Saverio Bellante found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity

Saverio Bellante. Inset: Tom O’Gorman
Saverio Bellante. Inset: Tom O’Gorman

Alison O'Riordan

The jury in the trial of an Italian man who admitted killing his landlord and eating his body parts in Castleknock last year have found him not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Saverio Bellante (36) with an address at Beech Park Avenue, Castleknock, Dublin 15 was charged with murdering Thomas O'Gorman at an unknown time between January 11 2014 and January 12 2014 at the above address.

Last Monday at the Central Criminal Court Mr Bellante pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O'Gorman.

The jury of seven men and five women spent one hour and 36 minutes deliberating today before bringing in a verdict of not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Tom O'Gorman
Tom O'Gorman

Before returning their verdict, the foreman of the jury asked the presiding judge Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan if they could express an opinion on their verdict. Ms Justice Heneghan refused, saying: "A jury cannot express an opinion on a verdict."

Upon delivering the verdict the judge thanked the twelve jurors for their time in this "difficult case" and excused them from jury service for the next fifteen years.

"The work juries do in these Criminal Court's is hugely important work but difficult work and we appreciate the work you do and this was a

particularly difficult case," she said.

Accused Saverio Bellante
Accused Saverio Bellante

Ms Justice Heneghan committed Mr Bellante to the Central Mental Hospital and put in the matter for August 12 2015 at 11am when Dr Mohan would be present.

Yesterday the jury heard that the Italian man admitted killing his landlord in Castleknock last year and told gardai in an interview that he ate what he believed to be a part of the deceased's heart.

Also on Thursday two consultant psychiatrists told the trial jury that Mr Bellante fulfilled the criteria for a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defence counsel Sean Guerin SC made a number of admissions on Thursday morning on behalf of his client which the jury were told would make their time in the court very short.

In his opening prosecution counsel Mr Patrick Gageby SC told the trial the issue of insanity was a "live issue in this case."

Mr Gageby said that Mr O'Gorman was killed sometime in the early hours of January 12 2014 and what alerted gardai to that fact was when Mr Bellante rang the gardai.

Mr Gageby said Mr O'Gorman was just shy of his fortieth birthday, he was a freelance journalist and worked part-time at The Iona institute which is associated with the Roman Catholic faith.

Mr Gageby said Mr Bellante was a native of Palermo in Italy and he was 35 years of age when he killed Mr O'Gorman.

"When Mr Bellante left Ireland, he went back to Sicily and at that stage he was diagnosed with suffering from a mental disorder and diagnosed with having religious hysterical deliria. He was treated by a psychiatrist across there and put on anti-psychotic medication," said the counsel.

The court heard Mr Bellante returned to Ireland again in 2011 and worked with a pharmaceutical company and had been taking his medication.

Mr Gageby said both men met through Focolare and in November 2013 Mr Bellante rented a room in Castleknock from Mr O'Gorman. They were acquaintances with "common interests."

On the evening of January 11 2014 both men were playing a game of chess.

The court heard Mr Bellante's sister knew her brother had suffered a breakdown in the past and had a series of mental disorders.

The phonecall which was made to 999 by the Italian man at 1.50am in the morning said he killed Mr O'Gorman with a dumbbell and a knife.

"There was extensive bunt force trauma to the deceased and an enormous amount of blood everywhere. Unusually there was some form of a cutting open of his front chest. It would appear part of his lung was cut out and brought to the kitchen," said Mr Gageby.

Defence counsel Mr Guerin then made nine admissions under Section 22 of the Criminal Justice Act to ease the burden of the prosecution including that at an unknown time between January 11 2014 or January 12 2014 Saverio Ballante killed Thomas O'Gorman.

A second admission was that Mr O'Gorman died a result of blunt force trauma to his head and stab wounds to his neck and chest.

Garda Patrick Traynor who arrived on the scene on the night in question was called to give evidence yesterday and he told the court he found the deceased Mr O'Gorman slumped across the carpet and what was unusual was whatever he was wearing on top was cut up and the area of his chest was open in middle with a large hole.

The court heard there was a dumbbell and a broken part of a sharp kitchen knife beside the body.

When Mr Bellante was asked what happened, he said they were playing chess and he had "moved the king" and Mr O'Gorman got angry and accused him of it being a "stupid and perverse move".

The court heard Mr Bellante then went to the kitchen and took a knife from a block of knives before he "put it straight into him" by stabbing him.

"I just did what I had to do. We had a fight and I stabbed him," read Mr Gagbey from an interview conducted with Mr Bellante at Blanchardstown Garda Station on Sunday January 12 2014.

Later in cross examination of Gda Patrick Traynor, defence counsel Mr Guerin put it to the garda that his client admitted killing the deceased from the "very beginning" which he agreed with.

It was inevitable, something he had an obligation to do and something he perceived to be important and while it is normally wrong to kill a man, in this case it wasn't and he just had to do it,” read Mr Guerin.

The court heard Mr Bellante thought he took Mr O'Gorman's heart out of his chest with his hand but it was in fact his lung.

I left the smaller part and ate the bigger part, the smaller part wasn't for me," read Mr Gageby.

Chief State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy was also called to give evidence and she told the court she carried out a post mortem and Mr O'Gorman had been a victim of a violent assault with severe blunt force trauma to the left hand side of his head.

"There was a large gaping hole which was consistent with several blows from a large blunt object," she said.

There was also evidence of a knife assault to his head, chest and neck. Prof Cassidy told the court she found the right lung was severed and removed and in a plastic carrier bag in the kitchen were the remains of the lung.

Prof Cassidy said the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds to the neck and chest.

Yesterday afternoon two consultant psychiatrists told the trial jury that Mr Bellante fulfilled the criteria for a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Stephen Monks from the Central Mental Hospital was called by prosecution counsel Mr Patrick Gageby SC.

The court heard Dr Monks was asked by the DPP to do a psychiatric assessment on Mr Bellante who told him he was first hospitalised in Palermo in Italy in 2005.

"He said it took him ten years to do his primary degree as he was taking anti psychotic and mood stabilising medication which made his concentration poor so this was part of the reason for problems with his academic work," said Dr Monks.

Upon moving to Ireland in 2011 he was engaged with mental health services in Ireland and up to January 9 2014 Mr Bellante had been attending a clinic on Baggot Street roughly every two months.

Dr Monks said it was there a consultant psychiatrist told him he could come off his medication gradually. However the court heard his doctor in Italy said he should remain on his medication all his life.

The jury were told that two days before the murder he had attended an out-patient appointment at the Dublin clinic where the anti-psychotic medication Olanzapine he had been on was stopped.

"His medication was coming down gradually since coming to Ireland and he stopped his last visit on January 9 2014.  According to clinical records the dose was reduced in January 2012 until finally being discontinued on January 9 2014. By January 10 he started to feel unwell and begin to interpret things to be good or evil and became preoccupied with signs of good or evil," said the doctor.

Dr Monks told the jury Mr Bellante told him he experienced Mr O'Gorman staring at him as if he was "strange or dangerous" while they were playing chess on the night in question.

“I've never seen anyone look at me in that way. He wanted to stop my freedom, when playing there are common rules, he was acting for himself," read Dr Monks from his report which set out to examine the mental state of the accused.

Dr Monks said Mr Bellante felt the deceased was "fighting the side of evil" whereas he was was respecting the chess game.

The court heard Mr Bellante saw Mr O'Gorman as the devil whereas he was Jesus Christ and he proceeded to stab him four or five times with a knife.

“I thought the way to finish him was to eat his heart as it was the way to good and evil," read the doctor.

Mr Bellante was admitted to the Central Mental Hospital on January 14 2014 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The court heard this mental disorder is classed under five headings and Mr Bellante displayed "symptoms of several of these domains such as delusions but not hallucinations."

"Despite having the presence of this, it didn't impair his ability to stand trial or plead. His delusional mood started over a few days and progressed to frank delusional thinking and the battle between good and evil until he became profoundly paranoid. He had a belief that killing Mr O'Gorman and eating his heart would put an end to evil in the world," said Dr Monks.

Dr Monks told the jury as a result of his schizophrenia he didn't know the nature and quality of the act he carried out.

"While he knew to kill a man was wrong in the eyes of the law, he thought what he was doing was right and entirely justified so he was unable to reason outside of his psychotic thought processes and he didn't know what he doing was morally wrong," added the witness.

In his opinion Dr Monks told the court Mr Bellante fulfils the criteria for a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defence counsel Mr Sean Guerin SC then called Dr Conor O'Neill who told the court he met the accused on January 14 2014 at Cloverhill Prison and performed the first psychiatric assessment of him.

Dr O'Neill said Mr Bellante was on two forms of medication, Olanzapine which is to trace psychotic symptoms such as delusions and the second medication was Sodium valproate, used to stabilise mood.

The court heard the amount of anti psychotic medication Olanzapine started to be reduced by 2.5 milligrams in Janaury 2012 until it became zero by January 9 2014, two days prior to the killing of Mr O'Gorman. 

Following blood tests after the murder the levels of Sodium valproate was found to be lower than the therapeutic measure generally given.

However, Dr O'Neill told the court that one or more dose had perhaps been missed and this medication isn't the one that keeps psychotic symptoms in check.

Dr O'Neill also told the court that Mr Bellante meets the criteria of not guilty by verdict of insanity.

"Mr Bellante has been diagnosed since his early 20’s and his disorder is a mental disorder. He has been on medication for ten years although it was reduced when he relapsed. The interviews with gardai suggest he was deluded and he did not know what he doing was wrong," said the witness.

This morning Mr Sean Guerin SC addressed the court room on behalf of his client Mr Bellante but not on the matters of the law which he said the jury would get from the trial judge Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan.

Mr Guerin opened by saying to the jury they had heard from two consultant psychiatrists who have offered their exper opinion on these issues and they are entitled to rely on these and be guided on this.

The defence counsel told the court this offence couldn't have had any rational justification and nothing the late Thomas O'Gorman did or said could have led to these "disturbing but also irrational events."

Mr Guerin said the way the deceased remains were treated could only be seen through the lens of insanity, something Mr Bellante had suffered with for more than a decade. However in response to the appropriate medication Mr Bellante's symptoms which he was suffering from were kept in check.

"Unfortunately at the time of the killing of Mr O'Gorman, Mr Bellante's medication changed and it did under medical supervision which is of no blame to him," said the barrister.

The court heard it was two to three days before these events occurred that the psychotic behaviour set in and "a very severe psychosis developed very rapidly."

Mr Guerin said even in interview his client was unable to present his thoughts in any "coherent or logical way. He was someone who was severely unwell and was rushed to the Central Mental Hospital because of that," said the defence counsel.

The barrister said this all points toward "only one possible conclusion" which is to return a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecution counsel Mr Patrick Gageby SC told the trial which lasted two days that he would not be offering a concluding statement.

Ms Justice Heneghan told the jury this morning in her charge to them to apply their common sense to determine what the facts were in this case and to draw up common sense conclusions from the evidence they have heard.

She said to the jury they had heard from five witnesses in this case who were firstly a mutual acquaintance of the two men, Mr Brendan

Gallagher; Detective Garda Patrick Traynor; Chief State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy; consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Stephen

Monks and consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Conor O'Neill.

The judge said Mr Bellante pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder hence the presumption of innocence remained with him throughout the trial.

She said insanity was a defence and the onus was on Mr Bellante to establish his insanity at the time, so the burden of proof was on the defence where they were putting insanity forward.

"The defence only have to prove insanity on the balance of probabilities. They have asked for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity which means the accused will not have a criminal record for murder. For murder there must be criminal intent and the defence say Mr Bellante did not have the necessary mental capacity to commit this crime of murder," she said.

Judge Heneghan stressed if the jury bring in a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity it is an acquittal and he doesn't get to walk out the door but goes to the Central Mental Hospital. In the future Ms Heneghan said she will then direct what is to be done with Mr Bellante.

"You have heard from Dr Monks, the expert on behalf of the State and Dr O'Neill the expert on behalf of the defence and they both agreed with each other. You must make findings of fact in this case because in any criminal trial this is the job of the jury," she said,

Ms Justice Heneghan then dealt with Section 5 of the Criminal Law Insanity Act which finds that when the accused in a trial is suffering from a mental disorder and he/she did not know the nature or quality of the act, he/she did not know what he/she was doing was wrong, or he/she was unable to refrain from the act, a jury shall return a special verdict that the accused is not guilty by verdict of insanity.

"The law requires that a jury must hear evidence from just one consultant psychiatrist and you have heard not from just one but two who have given lengthy evidence of their findings," said the judge.

"If you put not guilty by reason of insanity it would be in accordance with the evidence you have heard and that you accept the evidence of two of the consultant psychiatrists. The evidence in this case points in one way and any verdict other than not guilty by reason of insanity would show the jury would be ignoring and rejecting the evidence given by the two consultants," she said.

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