Deirdre Morley trial hears of mental state deteriorating before murders

‘No contest as to what the verdict should be’ in ‘sad and tragic case’, judge tells jury

Four days after she took the lives of her three children by suffocating them, Deirdre Morley told doctors at Tallaght University Hospital that she "wished she had a time machine".

Ms Morley has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity of the murders of Conor (9), Darragh (7) and Carla McGinley (3), who were found dead on January 24th, 2020.

The jury in the case retired to consider a verdict at 3.35pm on Wednesday, after a day of evidence mostly focused on Ms Morley’s deteriorating mental status in the years and months leading up to the killings.

In his charge to the jury, Mr Justice Paul Coffey said "in this sad and tragic case" there was "no contest as to what the verdict should be. It is agreed by the prosecution and defence that the defence of insanity applies".

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The court had earlier heard that, within a few weeks of her admission to the Central Mental Hospital in January 2020, on a new regime of medication that she described as a “wonder drug”, Ms Morley told a psychiatrist she felt more like the “old me”.

However, she said “the grief was unbearable, she wanted a magic wand to go back three weeks and ask for help”.

“I really miss my kids and husband,” she said. “I don’t know how you learn to live with these things.”

She could now see that she had numerous supports, and that “the lads were fine”, the things she was worrying about were all normal features of development.

Ms Morley told forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright that "in my head it was so much more . . . Now all I can think of is what they had going for them . . . I can't remember what I was worried about."

She sat quietly, dressed in a dark, patterned dress, as the court heard evidence from Dr Wright and another forensic psychiatrist, Dr Mary Davoren.

Dr Wright said that when she asked Ms Morley if she considered alternatives to killing the children, she replied: “No, I couldn’t not take them with me. I thought they would irreparably damaged by their mother committing suicide. I thought it was the right thing to do, the hard thing, but the right thing.”

Extensive psychiatric evidence presented in court painted a picture of someone who suffered periodically from stress and anxiety through much of her adult life, starting the late 1990s.

She sought help from counsellors and medical professionals at different times, and eventually spent a number of weeks in St Patrick’s hospital in the summer of 2019. But the court also heard that she kept the extent of her illness concealed from those closest to her.

There was a thread running through her discussions with medical professionals that she was an inadequate parent, but this was not made known to those around her, said prosecuting barrister Anne-Marie Lawlor SC.

Diagnoses

The psychiatrists who gave evidence before the court came to slightly differing conclusions regarding her diagnosis. Dr Wright said she diagnosed Ms Morley with bipolar affective disorder type II.

Dr Davoren said Ms Morley’s diagnosis had changed a number of times, including before and after her admission to the Central Mental Hospital. A number of factors made it difficult to accurately assess her mental status.

“At a minimum she suffered from a recurring depressive disorder.”

However, both agreed that she met the criteria for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The court heard how, when Ms Morley became a mother to Conor, she was initially “on cloud nine” but within four months anxieties and doubts had begun to set in about him not falling into a routine.

“I was hard on myself. He was a good, happy contented baby,” she said.

When Conor was a toddler, she worried about his eating so much that at one time she cried for a whole day. She doubted herself again when Darragh grew into a “boisterous” toddler.

Over the years, she worried that “Conor wasn’t riding a bike, Darragh wasn’t swimming, Carla wasn’t toilet trained.” Later she became preoccupied with their use of screens.

“I thought if I didn’t do everything right, they would suffer,” she said.

Family members tried to support and reassure her, but “when I was in the thick of it there was no talking to me,” she told Dr Wright.

Her marriage to Andrew McGinley was a good one that had some “peaks and troughs”, particularly in the last six months. But she would later tell Dr Wright, “I wonder how much of our struggles were my struggles.”

The court heard that he was “very paternal, he loves kids . . . I never stopped loving him. He was a really good guy.”

Work-related stress

She also suffered at times with work-related stress and feared “something happening on my watch” when she was a paediatric nurse.

Her job was mostly a source of joy but it was also a source of stress, because she wanted to be all things to all men, she told Dr Davoren.

In March 2018, she took 12 weeks off work with stress. Later that year, “I wasn’t able to enjoy anything.” She couldn’t get through the day without a nap and lost 10lbs over six weeks.

The court heard that her GP noted that she felt overwhelmed looking after the children and guilty. She began taking antidepressants. In February of the following year she described at a psychiatric review a fantasy that she was “in an apartment in Paris, no children, just me”.

She improved briefly, but by July 2019 was ill enough to be admitted as an inpatient to St Patrick’s. There she was described as “overwhelmed, low mood, poor sleep and appetite, excessive guilt, poor self worth, early-morning wakening, poor concentration.”

The court heard that by January 2020 she had slipped into a state of delusion and psychosis. She had a list of her own failures as a mother and she worried they didn't know how to cope and would not be able to cope going forward. Summing up, defence barrister Michael Bowman SC said that what she observed as difficulties and the children acting out was a manifestation of her illness. In reality, they were wonderful, happy and engaging children.

She told Dr Wright she didn’t know when she started to think about a plan. “I wanted to evaporate for a long time . . . I’m not sure when it became more definitive. I thought about it but thought I can’t leave the children.”

She had her first thoughts of killing the children on Monday or Tuesday January 20th and 21st, 2020. There were two recurring thoughts: “I had to go, I couldn’t not take them with me” and “I have ruined them by bad parenting and my mental illness. I felt they were doomed. They were going to be mentally ill and not secure.”

The court earlier heard her description of when she took the children’s lives by smothering all three of them. Both psychiatrists agreed that she did not know what she was doing was wrong, and that she was unable to refrain from committing the act.

Mr Bowman reminded the jury that “this case has at its core the tragic loss of three young lives”.

It involved “two parents who were utterly committed to the welfare of their children and who loved them very, very deeply”.

One of the truly tragic ironies of this case, he said, was that “Ms Morley is a woman who committed her entire professional life to the care and wellbeing of children as a paediatric nurse. She felt acutely the loss of patients under her care.”

The jury of 10 men and two women will resume deliberations on Thursday.

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