A 32-year-old man with schizophrenia has been found not guilty of murdering his mother by reason of insanity.
Niall Stapleton of Glebe Lodge, Kilfane, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Siobhan Stapleton (51) at that address on May 25, 2012. She died from blunt force trauma to the head, after being beaten with the handle of a garden implement.
The college graduate admitted causing his mother’s death, but a four-day trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that he believed she had been replaced by an impostor when he killed her.
Forensic psychiatrists for both the prosecution and defence were in agreement that Mr Stapleton met the requirement for the special verdict of not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
However it took a jury of seven men and five women more than two hours to reach a majority verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
The trial heard from the clinical director of the Central Mental Hospital, where Mr Stapleton has been an inpatient since shortly after his mother’s death.
Professor Henry Kennedy had studied his medical records and interviewed the accused on behalf of the prosecution. He was satisfied that at the moment he was striking his mother, he believed he was striking a doppelganger.
It was one of a number of delusions from which he suffered at the time, all in keeping with a diagnoses of schizophrenia made in 2008.
The court also heard that he had misused a variety of substances since the age of 14 and that this might have led to his schizophrenia being missed in 2006, when he was diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis.
The trial also heard that Mr Stapleton had been in denial about his illness until after his mother’s death and did not always take the anti-psychotic medication he was prescribed.
He had tried to move out of home a number of times but always relapsed when he didn’t have the support of his mother to ensure he took his medicine.
On one such occasion, Mrs Stapleton had to fly to Australia to bring him home, after he had been committed to a psychiatric hospital there. It followed his attempted robbery of a bank in which he had simply handed a cashier a note demanding money.
The trial heard that Mr Stapleton was quite paranoid and behaving erratically at a family barbecue the evening before her death. He thought his sister’s boyfriend was putting LSD in his cans of beer.
He didn’t sleep for long that night and was paranoid again the following morning. He was afraid to go into Thomastown to get his hair cut, thinking the barber might hold him captive.
Meanwhile, his mother was in good form that day, singing along with the radio. It was a warm sunny day and his sister, just returned from college, was painting outside.
At about 1.20pm, he saw the silhouette of his mother doing laundry in the garage and thought that something dark had shifted into her.
“I thought it wasn’t my mother, that something had replaced her,” he said. “I picked up the spade. I thought I’d better deal with this.”
He said his mother came outside and that he swung out and hit her on the head two or three times.
“She fell on the ground. I came round then and said: ‘Oh God, what have I done?’ and ran and put the spade handle on the grass,” he continued. “It dawned on me what I’d done, that this wasn’t a doppelganger. It was for real.”
The trial heard that he first denied attacking his mother, telling family members and gardai that he had seen a man leave the property through a hedge.
Mrs Stapleton was rushed to hospital in Kilkenny, where it was decided to transfer her to Beaumont. She was 20 minutes into that journey when she died.
Mr Stapleton, her eldest child, was arrested after her funeral and initially continued to deny involvement but he eventually admitted that he must have snapped and attacked his mother.
Michael Delaney SC, prosecuting, told the jurors in his closing speech that they had to decide if Mr Stapleton was suffering from a mental disorder when he killed her.
“The evidence of the two psychiatrists clearly establishes that to be the case,” he explained, referring to the evidence of Prof Kennedy and defence witness Dr Stephen Monks.
“But it’s a matter for you,” he added.
Mr Delaney said that such a disorder must have meant that either he did not know the nature and quality of his action, that what he was doing was wrong or that he was unable to refrain from the act.
“Only one needs to be satisfied, but you may be satisfied on the evidence that all three apply,” said the prosecutor, adding that they needed to be convinced only on the balance of probabilities.
Patrick Gageby SC, defending, pointed out that the law meant the prosecution could not simply accept a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and that is why a jury was needed.
Mr Stapleton’s father, Peter, and his sisters were in court for the trial, which heard that they support their son and brother and visit him often in hospital.
Mr Justice Garret Sheehan committed Mr Stapleton to the Central Mental Hospital for preparation of a report.
The case is due back before him this (Thursday) morning when it will be decided whether to make a more substantial committal order.