Mother found not guilty of murder of daughter by reason of insanity

Woman had ‘fixed and false’ idea about autistic condition of child (3), court told

The jury at the Central Criminal Court  spent 54 minutes deliberating on Wednesday before bringing in a unanimous verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The jury at the Central Criminal Court spent 54 minutes deliberating on Wednesday before bringing in a unanimous verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

A mother who smothered her toddler daughter with a “Minnie Mouse” pillow while she was taking an afternoon nap on the couch in their family home has been found not guilty of her murder by reason of insanity.

The two-day trial at the Central Criminal Court also heard that the woman described to gardaí how she held the pillow over the child’s face as she struggled and screamed. Her three-year-old daughter called out for her daddy and finally let out a sigh, she said.

The 43-year-old woman became “obsessed” and “overwhelmed” with the child’s autism diagnosis and convinced herself that the toddler had a more severe form of autism – pathological demand avoidance – when in reality the diagnosis was at the milder end of the spectrum.

She was fearful for her child’s future and felt it could ruin the life of her other child. In the days prior to the killing the defendant had carried out internet searches on “suicide” and “mothers killing their autistic children”.

Cause of death

The toddler was pronounced dead three days later, on February 13th, 2018, and her cause of death was cerebral hypoxia, caused by the act of suffocation.

The woman, who cannot be named by order of the court, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of the infant nearly two years ago.

Two consultant forensic psychiatrists from the Central Mental Hospital gave evidence during the trial that the defendant fulfilled the criteria for the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr Sally Linehan, called by the prosecution, testified that the defendant was suffering with “recurrent depressive disorder” and said the accused did not know what she was doing was wrong and was unable to refrain from committing the act.

Dr Stephen Monks, for the defence, said the woman was suffering from “severe depression with psychotic features” and did not know the nature and quality of the act as she believed her only option was to kill her child, who she was convinced was profoundly disabled and had no future or quality of life.

In his closing speech, prosecution counsel Paul Murray SC asked the jury to return a true verdict which reflected the evidence in the case.

Defence counsel Patrick Gageby SC said in his closing address that his client was a “gentle, kind and caring mother who lived for her children”. However, she harboured a “fixed and false idea” that her child was suffering from the worst possible end of the autism spectrum disorder despite everyone saying to the contrary including the child psychologist.

The woman’s “completely irrational belief” was in the driving seat when she killed her child, said the barrister. Her solution was not one that would lead anyone to consider the person was sane, he concluded.

The jury of six men and six women spent 54 minutes deliberating on Wednesday before bringing in a unanimous verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

After they had delivered their verdict, Ms Justice Carmel Stewart thanked the jury for their attendance and participation in this short but difficult trial. The judge exempted them from jury service for the next five years.

Ms Justice Stewart then made an order committing the woman to go to the Central Mental Hospital today and for the matter to be brought back before the court on November 5th.