A woman who stabbed a total stranger to death during a psychotic episode bears “zero” moral culpability for the killing due to her mental condition, her barrister has told the Central Criminal Court.
The court also heard the State accepts that Christina Anderson was undergoing a psychotic episode at the time of the killing and cannabis intoxication “does not feature” in the case.
During the trial, the jury heard a central issue was whether Anderson’s actions when she repeatedly stabbed Gareth Kelly were driven by mental illness or by cannabis intoxication.
Michael O’Higgins SC said that while his client’s actions were horrendous, she was suffering delusions brought on by bipolar-affective disorder. Although she is legally culpable, Mr O’Higgins said her “moral responsibility could and should go to zero given the very acute mental illness under which she was labouring at the time”.
He asked Ms Justice Karen O’Connor to extend the “maximum leniency” available when sentencing Anderson for the crime of manslaughter, to which she pleaded guilty earlier this year. Ms Justice O’Connor will impose sentence on June 20th.
Counsel read out a letter from Anderson in which she apologised for all the pain she had caused and described the victim as “an innocent man who did not deserve to die”.
Mr Kelly (38) had never met Anderson (41) and was trying to start his car outside her home in the early morning on his way to work when she approached him and stabbed him five times, fatally injuring him.
At a sentencing hearing earlier this month, Mr Kelly’s partner Maria Murphy described the deceased as a loving dad with a “cheeky smile” who was adored by his children.
Anderson, of Brownsbarn Wood, Kingswood, Dublin 22, stabbed Mr Kelly five times as he tried to start his car outside her home at about 7am on the morning of February 25th, 2020.
She was initially charged with murder and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In January this year, more than one month into her trial, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) accepted a plea of guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility due to a mental disorder.
The State accepted that Anderson was experiencing a psychotic episode due to bipolar-affective disorder, but did not qualify for the full defence of a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act.
At Monday’s hearing, Mr O’Higgins outlined what he said was evidence of the “complete destruction” of his client’s rational mind in the weeks and months before the stabbing.
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright diagnosed Anderson with bipolar-affective disorder and gave the opinion that she was suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the killing. Dr Wright said Anderson falsely believed Mr Kelly was a threat to her and her family and that by stabbing him she was protecting her family.
Mr O’Higgins said the actions of his client were “horrendous” but she was “very mentally ill” and in a “state of paranoia and persecution”. She bears some liability, he said, and that is accepted by her plea of guilty to manslaughter.
“In determining the appropriate punishment the mental element, or lack of mental element as it is in this case, has to be a huge factor in determining any punitive sentence the court is to mete out,” counsel said. He added: “The absence of a rational mind is a paramount factor in determining moral culpability.”
Mr O’Higgins cited legal authorities that he said show there is a distinction between moral and legal responsibility and in some cases involving mental illness “responsibility could be reduced to zero”.
Her illness is so severe, Mr O’Higgins said, that more than three years after the stabbing Anderson remains in the Central Mental Hospital undergoing treatment. Mr O’Higgins also pointed to recent psychiatric reports which state that she is at low risk of reoffending.
He further asked the court to consider that Anderson has led a “blameless life”, having never come to the attention of gardaí before. She is a mother who worked for a living, ran her own businesses and kept a good home, he said.
In a letter written by Anderson, she said she wanted to “apologise from the bottom of my heart to Mr Kelly’s partner and family for all the pain I have caused”. “You may never forgive me, but I want you to know I regret the killing and it will haunt me for the rest of my life,” she wrote.
She said he did not deserve to die, and she feels “ashamed, and truly sorry for what I did”.
Pat McGrath SC, for the DPP, said the killing is at the higher end for offences of manslaughter but in sentencing the judge must consider how much Anderson’s culpability is reduced by her mental illness before setting a headline sentence.
Following the accepted plea earlier this year, Michael O’Higgins SC, for Anderson, said the plea decision was taken “after lengthy consideration and appraisal of this case”.
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He said there were “ongoing difficulties on the defence side” arising from a report by consultant psychiatrist Professor Harry Kennedy and the decision to plead guilty to manslaughter was informed by those difficulties.
The court has previously heard that Professor Kennedy disagreed with Dr Brenda Wright, a consultant psychiatrist called by the defence, who said Anderson was suffering from bipolar-affective disorder and as a result of her mental disorder she was unable to refrain from stabbing Mr Kelly.
Prof Kennedy, the court heard during cross-examination of Dr Wright, had written a report in which he said that Anderson’s behaviour was better explained by cannabis intoxication. Intoxication cannot be used as a defence under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006. Mr McGrath accepted that intoxication “does not feature” in the case.
Anderson was taken into custody at the Dochas women’s prison following her arrest and detention in February 2020 but was transferred almost immediately to the Central Mental Hospital. The court heard she has remained a patient at the Central Mental Hospital since then.