Woman not guilty of husband's murder


A Co Laois mother of four has been cleared of her husband’s murder by reason of diminished responsibility.

The eight men and four women on the Central Criminal Court jury found Anne Burke (56), of Ballybrittas, Co Laois guilty of the manslaughter of Pat Burke (55), at their family home on Sunday August 19th, 2009.

Mr Burke, who had worked as a groundsman at the local convent, was bludgeoned over the head with a hammer 23 times as he slept in the downstairs bedroom of the family home.

Mrs Burke’s daughter Linda, who had been at her side throughout the trial, held her mother’s hand and broke down in tears as the verdict was delivered.

They jury had listened to two days of evidence detailing the 3 year marriage of Anne and Pat Burke, a marriage that was marred by violent rows, and regular and excessive drinking.

Mrs Burke said she was assaulted by her husband on their wedding night in 1975, and that the abuse continued throughout their marriage. She said she only started drinking so she could “stand up” to her husband who started rows when he was drunk.

She described her marriage as “a litany of abuse” during which her husband beat her frequently.

The court heard Mrs Burke was admitted to the psychiatric unit of Portlaoise Hospital after attempting to slash her wrists six days prior to the killing. She was discharged two days later without having received any treatment or medication, at her and her husband’s request.

Mrs Burke said she and her husband argued on and off for the next few days until the Saturday when he went to Portlaoise to go drinking with some friends. Mr Burke returned home at about 4.45 am and she said they rowed for hours until he went to bed, she then began drinking at about10am.

About six hours later, she picked up a hammer that had been in the bedroom and hit him over the head as he slept.

Mrs Burke told gardai afterwards that “it was a haze...it was like someone else was doing it.”

In her statements to gardai she said she tried to washed his face and covered his body with a duvet. She then wrote a suicide note to her four children and cut her wrists. Her son found her in the hallway brought her into the bedroom to bandage her arms, where he discovered his father’s body on the ground.

He alerted gardai and the emergency services who found Mrs Burke sitting on the bed.

Two psychiatrists who gave medical evidence on behalf of both the defence and prosecution agreed that Mrs Burke was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the killing, namely severe depression.

Dr Harry Kennedy, a psychiatrist attached to the Central Mental Hospital, said that he was satisfied that “at the relevant time, she was suffering from a mental disorder which caused her to have a diminished ability to think clearly or concentrate.”

He said she was clearly suicidal, suffered from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence and that she believed her children would be “better off if she was dead because there would be fewer rows.”

Counsel for the defence, Patrick Gageby SC told the jury that it “wouldn’t be right” to either acquit Mrs Burke, or to find her guilty of murder.

He said that the “overwhelming” evidence pointed towards a verdict of guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The jury returned that verdict after deliberating for just half an hour.

Mrs Burke is due to be sentenced on January 25th.