Man who stabbed woman 100 times found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity

St Otteran's
St Otteran's

A man with paranoid schizophrenia was suffering a psychotic episode when he stabbed a woman 100 times and attacked four other people, a jury has found at the Central Criminal Court.

Paul Cuddihy (38), a former resident of St Otteran's Hospital in Waterford, was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of 55-year-old Maria O'Brien at St Otteran's on September 5, 2014.

The jury of seven women and five men reached the same, unanimous verdict on four charges that Mr Cuddihy assaulted fellow hospital resident Mary Nugent and nurses Breda Fennelly, Terry Hayes and Mary Grant, causing them harm. The deliberations had lasted 39 minutes.

Justice Patrick McCarthy thanked the jury and exempted them from service for ten years. He committed Mr Cuddihy to the Central Mental Hospital and ordered that he return to court on November 14 when a doctor will outline a plan for his continued treatment.

Speaking outside the court after the verdicts Ms O'Brien's brother Joe O'Mahony and son Patrick Halley, flanked by her partner William Halley, described her as a "kindhearted, fun-loving person".

Patrick said: "She will always be in our memories. She was just the most caring person you could ever meet. She'd do anything for anybody, anything she could do, she would."

Mr O'Mahony said that the details of her death, whereby she suffered stab wounds to the face and had defensive wounds on her hands, had been difficult for the family to hear. "It's harrowing to know it happened to someone you know very well," he added.

During three days of evidence the jury heard that Mr Cuddihy lived with Maria O'Brien, Mary Nugent and four other people at a residential unit on the grounds of St Otteran's. They had the freedom to come and go as they pleased but they had the support of nurses and staff at the hospital who issued their medication and checked on them regularly.

On September 5 the alarm was raised by one of the residents, Sinead Barron, who called staff from her bedroom saying Mr Cuddihy was attacking someone. Breda Fennelly and Mary Grant told the court that they arrived to find Mr Cuddihy in the kitchen standing over Mary Nugent with a knife in his hand. Both nurses were injured as Mr Cuddihy turned his attention on them while they tried to calm him down and give Ms Nugent a chance to escape. He slashed Ms Fennelly's face with the knife and injured Ms Grant's hands as she prized the knife from his fingers. When assistant director of St Otteran's Terry Hayes arrived, Mr Cuddihy headbutted, kicked and punched him in an attack that Mr Hayes described as "intense", adding: "I feared for my life." It took five gardai and members of St Otteran's staff to subdue Mr Cuddihy.

Two forensic psychiatrists told the court that Mr Cuddihy was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia many years before this attack. Dr Brenda Wright said he had persecutory delusions and heard voices in his head. In March 2012, two years before the attack on Maria O'Brien, he assaulted his father and told him "I want to send you to an early grave." He said at the time that his thoughts directed him to attack his father and doctors believed this might mean that the voices in his head had commanded the assault.

At the time of the attack on Maria O'Brien he told Dr Wright and Dr Paul O'Connell that he believed he had to kill her or he would go to hell. He also believed that he would be freeing his family or the world from a curse if he killed her. Both doctors said these ideas were brought about by his illness, and that he did not understand the nature of what he was doing.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis told the court that Maria O'Brien had suffered more than 100 knife wounds to the head and face and blunt force trauma that had bruised her head and broken her nose. She died from blood loss as one of the knife wounds had cut her jugular vein.

In summing up the evidence prosecution counsel John O'Kelly SC told the jury that they can be satisfied that Mr Cuddihy killed Maria O'Brien and attacked the three nurses and his fellow hospital resident. "All of those facts are clear beyond reasonable doubt," he said, adding that the jury must decide "was he sane or was he insane in the terms of the Mental Health Act at the time."

He pointed out that forensic psychiatrists for the prosecution and defence agreed that he would have known what he was doing but, "that he wouldn't have known that what he was doing was wrong and that he would have been unable to stop himself."

Under the Act a person should be found not guilty by reason of insanity if it is proven that they had a mental illness and that as a result of that they were unaware of the nature of their actions or were unable to stop themselves.

Defending counsel Colman Cody SC said that the evidence in the case had been graphic and, at times unsettling. He said that some members of the jury might have been skeptical about psychiatry and the defence of insanity but that as a society Ireland is now more aware of mental illness and its effects.

He said the conclusions of both psychiatrists were not speculation but based on expertise, and arrived at following a lengthy examination of Mr Cuddihy's history and the evidence given by those present during the assaults. He said gardai and staff at the hospital had all described Mr Cuddihy as being fixated, agitated, disorientated and confused.

Mr Cuddihy will return to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum for assessment. He will return to court on November 14 when a doctor will recommend a course of treatment for him.

During the trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright said that Mr Cuddihy has made limited progress since arriving at the Central Mental Hospital and that he will require ongoing treatment for some time.

Eoin Reynolds