A 35-year-old man who stabbed his former employer 19 times during “a psychotic episode” in which he believed his boss was responsible for the murder of Michaela McAreavey has been found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.
The jury returned the verdict to Mr Justice Paul McDermott at the Central Criminal Court on Wednesday in the trial of Neil O’Dowd.
Mr O’Dowd, of Tuscany Park, Baldoyle, was charged with the attempted murder of Paul Smith at the Elphin Pub on the Baldoyle Road in Sutton on January 28th, 2021. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was also charged with assault causing harm and the production of knives during a dispute inside and outside the Elphin Pub on the same date.
His trial heard that Mr Smith, the manager of the pub, was stabbed repeatedly with three different knives, had glasses smashed over his head and was beaten with a mop handle. The court heard a total of 19 stab wounds were inflicted on Mr Smith and following the incident he suffered a pseudoaneurysm, which required surgery and a stent.
He told gardaí he had been standing in the middle of the lounge when Mr O’Dowd entered and began asking him questions like why he had gone to Mauritius on honeymoon. A detective garda gave evidence that Mr Smith had not gone to Mauritius on his honeymoon.
Mr Smith told gardaí he then went to attend to a customer and as he went to the cash desk he noticed a large knife in Mr O’Dowd’s hand. He said that when he asked him what he was doing, the accused said: “You killed that girl in Mauritius” before stabbing him repeatedly.
Another employee intervened and the knife was knocked from the accused’s hands. Mr O’Dowd then proceeded to smash glasses over Mr Smith’s head, the court heard.
The disturbance moved out to the car park but Mr O’Dowd stepped back into the pub where he picked up two steak knives. He returned to the car park with a knife in each hand and proceeded to stab Mr Smith repeatedly.
Mr Smith attempted to protect himself with his hands but Mr O’Dowd continued to stab him until the knives broke.
The court heard that in his statement to gardaí, Mr Smith spoke “incredibly sensitively” about Mr O’Dowd and had described him as “a good aul mate”.
Dr Stephen Monks, a consultant forensic psychiatrist, told counsel for the prosecution, Fiona Murphy SC that Mr O’Dowd was “labouring under the belief that the victim was involved in an unsolved murder and cover up”.
He said that because of the severe impairment of Mr O’Dowd’s judgement, he should be found not guilty of the charge by reason of insanity.
The jury also heard from Dr Paul O’Connell, a forensic consultant psychologist based at the Central Mental Hospital, who said the symptoms displayed by the accused were those of a mental illness consistent with paranoid schizophrenia. He said it was his opinion that Mr O’Dowd was experiencing a psychotic episode at the time and it would be appropriate that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity be considered.
Before the jury began their deliberations, Mr Justice McDermott said the facts in this case were agreed upon by all sides.
He told the jury to return a special verdict of not guilty by insanity if they were satisfied that Mr O’Dowd committed the acts but was suffering at the time from a mental disorder which meant he ought not to be held responsible as he did not know the nature and quality of the acts, he did not know what he was doing was wrong, or he was unable to refrain from the acts.
Mr Justice McDermott noted both forensic psychiatrists in the case agreed on the accused’s mental state.
“We don’t do trials by experts, but it would be perverse to ignore their opinions,” said Mr Justice McDermott.
He said it was a very difficult situation for the victim, Mr Smith, who was very seriously injured, a fact that was not being ignored by the court.
“He was the victim of an assault by someone who was very seriously ill at the time,” he said. “As a matter of law, I cannot tell juries what to do but I am allowed to give a strong view, and it would be remiss of me if I did not say that the overwhelming evidence is that he was suffering from a mental disorder and did not know what he was doing was wrong, nor was he able to refrain from committing the acts.”
The jury deliberated for 28 minutes before returning a unanimous verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Mr O’Dowd was remanded on continuing bail until next month.