Deirdre Morley could released from the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) within a year after being found not guilty by reason of insanity of killing her three young children this week, according to sources familiar with the case and her treatment.
The 44-year-old woman was suffering from temporary insanity when she suffocated Conor McGinley (9), Darragh McGinley (7), and Carla McGinley (3), a jury at the Central Criminal Court found.
Most murder accused found not guilty by reason of insanity spend many years in the hospital, the State’s only forensic psychiatric facility, before being judged well enough for release. A small number are unlikely to ever be released.
However, according to sources familiar with the case and her treatment, the unique nature of Ms Morley’s mental illness and her positive response to medication since the killings mean her stay in the hospital is likely to be significantly shorter than average.
Remand in the hospital is not a prison sentence. Its purpose is to rehabilitate and treat the patient rather than to punish. If a review board finds a patient is well enough to re-enter society, it is obliged to release.
CMH patients are assessed by the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board every six months following a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.
Having been found not guilty by reason of insanity on Thursday, Ms Morley was remanded to the hospital for a 14-day assessment.
When this is completed, the court may order her release. But a more likely outcome is she will be further remanded to the hospital until considered well enough to leave.
Given her current state she may be well enough to be granted a conditional discharge within the year, said sources. This would involve her abiding by strict conditions such as living in a designated address and attending all medical appointments.
About 85 per cent of CMH patients suffer from schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder – chronic diseases which, in severe forms, can require long-term in-patient care.
Ms Morley’s trial heard she was suffering from bipolar affective disorder or “at a minimum” recurrent depressive disorder and that she experienced a severe depressive episode involving psychosis on the day she killed her children.
In the days afterwards she was put on anti-psychotic medication and her condition improved considerably.
She was recorded as saying the medication was “a wonder drug” and that “if only I had had this last week, things would have been different”.
Turnover of patients in the hospital is low. In 2019 the review board agreed to grant conditional discharges to just five of the 91 it assessed. The average time spent in the hospital before conditional discharge was seven years, with one patient spending less than two years there.
"In theory the judge can release someone straight away [following the 14-day assessment period]. But in practice, they don't tend to," said Darius Whelan, a senior lecturer in law at UCC who specialises in mental health law.
After this point, the question of release is determined by the review board which bases its decision on the opinion of a psychiatrist, he said. “If the psychiatrist says they need to stay in, then the review board is obviously going to say they need to stay in.”
The board is obliged to release someone if they are judged to be well enough, said Dr Whelan. This includes cases of temporary insanity which has subsided.
Ms Morley will appear again before the Central Criminal Court on May 31st when the court will hear from a forensic psychiatrist on her current condition.