The man accused of murdering his former partner Jasmine McMonagle told a psychiatrist he bought the mother-of-two a car for Christmas but later set fire to it after she would not agree to a reconciliation, a jury has heard.
Richard Burke (32) told Dr Anthony Kearns, a now retired forensic psychiatrist who previously worked at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH), that he had never held down a job and was homeless for a period after he dropped out of college and became addicted to cannabis and head shop drugs.
The trial also heard Mr Burke falsely held a number of persistent delusional beliefs about Ms McMonagle having been unfaithful and giving drugs to her children.
The Central Criminal Court, sitting in Monaghan, on Wednesday heard evidence from two psychiatrists who agree that Mr Burke was suffering from a mental disorder at the time Ms McMonagle was killed which substantially diminished his responsibility.
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Mr Burke, of Killygordon, Co Donegal, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ms McMonagle at Forest Park, Killygordon on January 4th, 2019 but guilty to her manslaughter.
Dr Dearbhla Duffy, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the CMH, said it was her view that Mr Burke was “acutely psychotic” at the time of the alleged offences and for a short period afterwards. She said descriptions of his presentation when he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital a year prior to the killing “echoed aspects of his presentation in January 2019″.
Dr Kearns told defence counsel Michael Bowman SC that he interviewed the accused on four occasions between May and July 2020. He told him about his childhood and said he began smoking cannabis aged 16. He said Mr Burke told him he later attended Letterkenny IT after finishing school and started experimenting with head shop drugs.
Mr Burke told the psychiatrist he left college after drug taking “properly took hold” and then left his family home and was homeless for a period. He said he got into trouble with gardaí and was prosecuted for robbing a head shop.
The accused told the doctor he first encountered Ms McMonagle on an internet forum. They then lost contact for about a year before connecting again through Facebook. They arranged to meet and Mr Burke went to her house during a period when he was homeless and unemployed.
He said he fell in love “when she opened to door” and “it got serious quickly”. Ms McMonagle already had a child from a previous relationship and they decided to try for a baby. In December 2016, she became pregnant but Mr Burke told the psychiatrist that soon afterwards she told him she did not want him around as he was “disrupting the household”.
He told the psychiatrist he bought a used Nissan Micra for Ms McMonagle and wanted to teach her to drive. He said he went to her house every day to “try to bring her round” but without success. Mr Burke said he woke up one day “absolutely fuming” and bought a substantial amount of cannabis and alcohol. He got into the car, crashed it and set it on fire.
Mr Burke said he kept persisting in his efforts to reconcile with Ms McMonagle. The date of birth for the child they were expecting passed and he heard nothing, he told the psychiatrist. He said contact with Ms McMonagle was re-established at the end of September 2017, he started calling over and things went well for a while before “cracks began to show”.
Dr Kearns said Mr Burke harboured a persistent belief that his partner had been unfaithful and was giving drugs to the children. He agreed with Mr Bowman that these beliefs had no foundation in reality.
In early January 2018, Ms McMonagle contacted gardaí because she was worried about Mr Burke’s behaviour, the court heard. The psychiarist said the accused told him he agreed to go to a psychiatric hospital and be admitted voluntarily “just to check that he was not going mad”, but that he did not believe he was.
In his account of what happened on January 4th, 2019, Mr Burke told Dr Kearns he and Ms McMonagle had been fighting and he began punching her and put the rope around her neck. Mr Burke said the next thing he knew was she was on the floor and the gardaí arrived. He said he never woke up that day intending to kill her.
The jury heard Mr Burke told the psychiatrist that he had taken a large number of Lyrica tablets, a prescribed drug commonly used for anxiety and mood problems. Mr Burke said he had been taking it for two or three days before the event and had been drinking vodka on the night.
Dr Kearns said he spoke to Mr Burke’s mother, Anne-Marie Burke, while compiling his report and she told him that she felt she had lost her son when he started using drugs. “The head shop destroyed my son,” she said.
Ms Burke said she did not meet Ms McMonagle until January 3rd, 2018 when she heard her son had been brought to hospital. Ms Burke told Dr Kearns she had a very good relationship with Ms McMonagle.
She said following the killing and Mr Burke’s arrest, she visited her son in prison and he was still preoccupied with the idea that Ms McMonagle had given the children drugs. Ms Burke told the doctor this was complete nonsense.
Mr Bowman put it to the psychiatrist that it was clear the accused had delusional beliefs around Ms McMonagle and that there was no truth to how he was describing her treatment of the children or any suggestion of infidelity. Dr Kearns agreed that this was the case and said Ms Burke had been very clear on that topic.
The psychiatrist said that during his psychiatric admission in January 2018, Mr Burke reported auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions and received a diagnosis of a psychotic illness.
In conclusion, Dr Kearns said it was his view that Mr Burke was suffering from a mental disorder which substantially diminished his responsibility for the killing of Ms McMonagle. He said this disorder was complicated by the accused’s use of drugs over many years.
Dr Duffy told Anne-Marie Lawlor, prosecuting, that she conducted seven interviews with Mr Burke between December 2021 and last January. She agreed with Ms Lawlor that much of her evidence overlapped with that of Dr Kearns.
She said Mr Burke had a history of self-harm and had told her he had attempted to suicide when he was 19. She also noted that a psychiatrist who had assessed Mr Burke in 2011 had identified him has having some traits of avoidant personality disorder and as someone who would benefit from anger management treatment.
The trial continues on Thursday before Mr Justice Paul Burns and a jury of seven women and five men