An autistic man who beat his mother to death has been found not guilty of her murder by reason of insanity.
Bijan Afshar (23) was accused of the murder of his mother Lynn Cassidy (50) at her home in Deepdales, Bray, Co Wicklow on June 26th or 27th 2014.
He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and the jury of six men and six women delivered a unanimous verdict after less than one hour of deliberation at the Central Criminal Court.
Mr Afshar, who beat his mother to death when she told him she couldn’t prevent the sale of the house he shared with his father, was committed to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum.
Justice Isobel Kennedy said Mr Afshar should be examined by an approved medical officer who will report to the court on his condition and ongoing treatment on June 8th.
In his closing statements to the jury defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC said that this was a “very sad case with a sad background narrative”. He reminded the jury that two consultant psychiatrists had given their expert opinion that Mr Afshar was not in control of his actions and “unable to refrain” from killing his mother at the time.
He said this case was unusual in that both the prosecution and defence are in agreement and both urging the same verdict.
Presiding judge Justice Isobel Kennedy said there was no evidence in the case that would refute the expert witnesses. She added that while the jury is free to come back with a verdict of guilty of murder or not guilty of murder, any finding other than not guilty by reason of insanity would be “open to criticism”.
The trial heard expert testimony from consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright who said Mr Afshar lost control because his condition meant that he could not cope with the stress of any change in his environment or routine.
The following day he was due to move out of the house he had shared with his father and brother for most of his teenage and adult life and this prospect made him suicidal. He tried to confront his mother, to get her to halt the sale, but when she said she couldn’t he lost control and killed her.
She said: “At the time he was unable to refrain from committing the act because of his mental disorder.”
Describing the history of his condition, Dr Wright said that Mr Afshar’s autism was diagnosed late because he had relatively good speaking skills and attended a small primary school where his social skills were not tested. However, once he entered his teens and his peers started to develop more complex relationships he became withdrawn and shy. His condition was also effected by his parents’ separation in 2008.
His condition got worse as the years continued and after performing poorly in his Junior Cert exams he refused to go back to school. He became obsessed with computer games and a blog he had created that had about 5,000 followers.
He refused to shower and would wear the same clothes for days or even weeks. Although he had by then been diagnosed with autism, his parents found it difficult to get him to engage with the treatment services available.
By the time he turned 18 his routine had settled down and he was relatively calm although he was obsessive and hated any change. He became violent on one occasion when his parents redecorated his room without his permission.
He tore the curtains off the wall and cut up a couch with a knife. He was also obsessed with his diet, eating only organic food and spending hours researching the benefits and impacts of various diets.
All this, Dr Wright said, was in keeping with behaviour associated with autism. His social skills deteriorated and on one occasion, when left to look after himself while his father Mohammed traveled to Iran, he was discovered lying in bed in his own faeces. Things got worse when he learned that he would soon be moving out of the house he had shared with his father and brother for most of his teenage and adult life.
The house had been sold as a result of his parents’ separation and they were due to move out the day after Mr Afshar fatally attacked his mother.
Dr Wright said the prospect of the move caused Mr Afshar great distress. She said this kind of response was often seen in people with an autistic disorder as they had unreasonable reactions to any change in routine or loss of control over their environment.
She said that he came to the conclusion that there were only two solutions to this problem. The first was to convince his mother to prevent the sale. Failing that, he would kill himself.
During an interview with Dr Wright he said he had thought about travelling to Howth to throw himself off a cliff. On the night his mother died he went to her house to tell her the move was causing him great anxiety and that he was feeling suicidal.
He became frustrated when he felt that his mother was not taking him seriously, or didn’t believe him when he said he was thinking of killing himself. He said her responses seemed “robotic and pre-programmed”. His feelings were hurt.
She said his “poor emotional regulation” as a result of his disorder caused him to lose control.
Dr Eamonn Mullaney gave evidence for the prosecution and told the court that he agreed that Mr Afshar could not control his actions when he attacked his mother. When the verdict had been read out Mr Afshar's family shook hands with the prosecution and defence counsels and left the court.