Man acquitted of his mother's murder successfully appeals acquittal
A Roscommon man acquitted of murdering his mother by reason of insanity last year has successfully appealed his acquittal and now faces the retrial he had sought.
Paul Henry (29), who lived with his mother Ann Henry at the time, had pleaded not guilty to her murder at The Spinney, Abbeystown, Roscommon in September 2011.
A jury acquitted Henry of the murder by reason of insanity at a Castlebar sitting of the Central Criminal Court and he was committed to the Central Mental Hospital by Mr Justice Paul Carney on May 7 2014.
Mr Henry had sought a retrial so he could plead and be convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, thereby incurring a determinative sentence rather than being under an indefinite regime at the Central Mental Hospital possibly for the rest of his life.
The Director of Public Prosecutions sought to have the insanity verdict upheld.
The Court of Appeal first determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the appeal because it is a Constitutional court in contrast to its predecessor, the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The three-judge court went on to find that there was an “element of misdirection” by the trial judge even though there was not much difference between what was said by the judge and what ought to have been said.
Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, ordered a retrial.
The case for retrial will be listed in the Central Criminal Court in two weeks time, the court heard.
Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan had suggested during counsel's submissions that the outcome for Henry could be substantially different depending on the verdict.
The current outcome had lead to detention in the Central Mental Hospital and treatment on heavy medication whereas a conviction for murder would have lead to a completely different regime in terms of his health.
One might say, Mr Justice Sheehan had suggested, that Henry might have a better life in prison than in the Central Mental Hospital even if he gets a life sentence.
In its judgment, the court stated that the two different verdicts would have “very significant practical consequences” for Henry and in those circumstances it was appropriate to allow the appeal and order a retrial “so that a jury can return a verdict on this key issue”.
“This case seems to be the first time that the issue has arisen in Ireland,” the judgment stated.
In summary, the appeal raised the question of “where the onus of proof lies” and “what the standard of proof is” when the prosecution contends for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
At trial, the prosecution contended that Mr Henry was “insane” and not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, the judgment stated.
Mr Henry's legal team, lead by Colm Smyth SC, had urged that the appropriate verdict was guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
In this case, the judgment stated, there was no doubt that Mr Henry did the act in question. There was no suggestion either that the Central Criminal Court could or should have made a determination that he was unfit to be tried.
In seeking to appeal, therefore, Mr Henry contended that he was not insane at the time he committed the act and that there should not have been a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
It was noted that the “new defence” of dimished responsibility, introuduced by way of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, arose only where a mental order was present which, while not such to justify finding the accused not guilty by reason of insanity, was such to substantially diminish responsibility for the act.
Counsel for Mr Henry, Colm Smyth SC, had submitted that when the burden to prove insanity, which was not introduced by the defence, was passed to the defence, it was a “clear misdirection” by the trial judge to the jury.
The Court of Appeal stated that where the prosecution had urged a verdict of not (NOT) guilty by reason of insanity, it seemed reasonable that the prosecution must bear the burden of proof – on the balance of probabilities.
If the standard of proof was otherwise, a situation could arise where both alternative verdicts were “off the table” and “the likely outcome would be a verdict of guilty of murder”.
“Such an outcome could not be regarded as satisfactory and that leads the court to conclude that the obligation on the prosecution is to prove the case on the balance of probabilities,” the judgment stated.
That being so, the trial judge ought to have told the jury that it was for the prosecution to prove on the balance of probabilities the verdict of not (NOT) guilty by reason of insanity.
The point was made that what was actually said to the jury was not, in practical terms, very different and that such difference as there was between what was actually said and what ought to have been said would not justify intervention by the Court of Appeal, the judgment stated.
“This court recognises the force of that argument but is not persuaded by it.”
It was desirable that a jury should receive the maximum assistance in terms of directions that are clear, focused and concise, the judgment stated.
“Unfortunately, for very understandable reasons, that did not happen in this case. Instead a significant degree of confusion entered the case, which cannot have helped the jury”.