Accused believes entering guilty plea means he’s not guilty, court told

Court is assessing if man accused of murdering pensioner is fit to stand trial

A man accused of murdering a pensioner believes that entering a "guilty" plea actually means he would be pleading "not guilty" to the charge, a hearing at the Central Criminal Court has been told.

The court is assessing whether Patrick McDonagh (49), who is accused of the murder of pensioner Peter McDonald (77) in the Whitechapel Road area of Clonsilla, Dublin 15, on July 25th, 2020, is fit to stand trial.

His defence team has argued that Mr McDonagh is unfit for trial under section 4 of the Criminal Law Insanity Act and suffers with schizophrenia.

A consultant psychiatrist has told the court Mr McDonagh believes that by pleading “guilty” to the charge in a court, he was denying the charge and was actually pleading “not guilty”.

Defence witness Prof Patricia Casey told Ms Justice Karen O'Connor she interviewed Mr McDonagh seven times, which took up to six hours, and she believed him to be unfit for trial.

Prof Casey told defence barrister John D Fitzgerald that in her early interviews with Mr McDonagh he appeared "paranoid, was constantly looking at the door because of prison officers on the other side" and was "constantly" blessing himself.

Prof Casey told Mr Fitzgerald she believes Mr McDonagh has a learning disability and contradictions made by him in his interviews could be because of that, in addition to him being “acutely ill”. She said Mr McDonagh’s inconsistency with dates and histories was normal for someone with a learning disability.

Prof Casey said she had asked how Mr McDonagh would plead to the charge and told the court the accused said: “Guilty, because I did not do it.” Prof Casey said she explained what guilty meant but that Mr McDonagh repeated this in interviews.

She said it was “impossible” to make Mr McDonagh understand the meaning of “guilty”. Prof Casey said Mr McDonagh believes “if he pleaded not guilty he would have admitted committing a crime, which he rejects”.

Mr McDonagh has difficulty understanding legal language and the role of various actors in the court and has a low IQ that put him in the bottom two percentile of his peers, she said.

She said his inability to retain information was similar to memory problems suffered due to “alcohol brain damage” and he “absolutely” had a history of schizophrenia going back to 2014. She added that he had a troubled, chaotic upbringing and abused drugs from when he was 15 years old.

“In my opinion he is unfit to be tried. He is also unable to enter a plea since he believes a guilty plea means innocent and vice versa,” she said.

Test

She told Philip Rahn SC, for the State, that she advised a psychologist carry out an inquiry into Mr McDonagh's learning ability, which was carried out by forensic psychologist Dr Kevin Lambe.

Mr Rahn said Dr Lambe found "no symptoms" of psychiatric illness and carried out a "test of memory malingering", or Tomm, on Mr McDonagh. One of the aspects of the Tomm test, said Mr Rahn, was to assess whether or not Mr McDonagh was "feigning" a condition.

Prof Casey said the Tomm test was one of recognising images shown and then re-shown to the patient during the test session but it was also a “test of effort”. She said the low scores in the test did not take into account why they were low and may not have been due to a lack of effort.

She said Mr McDonagh was “not literate, or numerate” and he had engaged in “extensive drug use” that may have caused brain damage, which should have been factored into Dr Lambe’s report regarding the test.

Prof Casey said Mr McDonagh was a “timid, diffident man, who certainly did not understand all my questions”.

However, State witness Dr Mary Davoren, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, said Mr McDonagh was fit to stand trial.

She said when she interviewed Mr McDonagh, some of his answers were “approximate” ones and she believed these types of answer were deliberately incorrect and were associated with feigning a mental condition.

Dr Davoren told Mr Rahn that on May 10th, 2021, she asked Mr McDonagh if he knew the date to which he replied it was June 9th, 2021. Dr Davoren said this was, in her opinion, an approximate answer in that it was “not a randomly chosen one but is one just shy of the correct answer”.

She said she then asked Mr McDonagh who the Taoiseach and President were and was told they were "Bertie Ahern and Mary McSomething". Dr Davoren said she then asked if the accused knew his own solicitor's name and was told "Michael D Higgins". Dr Davoren said she believed the naming of the president was also an approximate answer as Mr McDonagh's previous legal counsel was Mr Michael O'Higgins.

Dr Davoren said Mr McDonagh told her he was having visual and aural “dual-modality” hallucinations regarding a bull outside his cell that occurred at the same time, which she said was not possible for someone with schizophrenia or psychosis. She added that Mr McDonagh said he heard voices inside his head, which was also atypical, as people with schizophrenia usually hear voices coming from the outside world.

She said even though Mr McDonagh had told her he could neither read nor write, it was in his medical files that he had previously tampered with a prescription, which, Dr Davoren said, showed both inconsistency in his accounts and capability of “goal-oriented” thinking.

Dr Davoren told Mr Rahn that Mr McDonagh had been taken off the waiting list for the Central Mental Hospital by the admission panel because he did not meet the threshold for entry under the Mental Health Act.

When asked by Dr Davoren if he had confidence in his solicitor, Mr McDonagh told her this was a confidential matter, which, she said, went towards both his ability to instruct his solicitor and understand legal matters.

Ms Justice Karen O’Connor adjourned the matter to April 26th, when she hopes to be in a position to deliver a decision.

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