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insanity defence Jury set to return verdict on mentally ill man accused of killing woman he was having affair with

The judge asked the jury to suspend deliberations to return their verdict on Tuesday

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The jury in the trial of a mentally ill man, accused of stabbing a woman he was having an affair with to death after becoming convinced she was an undercover agent sent to poison him, has ceased their deliberations and will return to the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday.

The panel of seven men and five women spent four hours and 10 minutes considering their verdict today. Shortly after 4pm this afternoon, Mr Justice Paul Burns asked them to suspend their deliberations for the weekend and return to court on Tuesday morning, when they will decide if the accused should be found not guilty by reason of insanity or if his responsibility for the killing was diminished due to his disorder.

Valerijs Leitons (25), a Latvian national but with an address at St Kevin’s Gardens, Dartry, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murdering Skaidrite Valdgeima (34) on 26 June 2019 at the Binary Hub aparthotel on Bonham Street, Dublin 8.

The week-long trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that Mr Leitons and Ms Valdgeima, a married woman, had struck up a friendship that became a sexual relationship. The couple met at a concert in May 2019 and began seeing each other frequently over the following weeks.

A pathologist’s report found Ms Valdgeima had suffered “multiple penetrating slash and stab wounds, particularly to the face, head and neck”. Dr Allan Cala, who carried out the post-mortem examination, told the jury that the deceased had "defence-type injuries on both arms". He suggested these likely happened when she tried to grab the knife or tried to block it.

The accused told gardai that "we were playing a sexual game" when arrested on suspicion of the crime.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Damien Smith from the Central Mental Hospital told the trial that the accused was suffering with a mental disorder but was not impaired enough to meet any of the three criteria for a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict.

The expert witness, who was called by the prosecution, testified that the incident happened during an "acute psychotic lapse of paranoid schizophrenia most likely precipitated by his non-adherence with prescribed antipsychotic medication up to three weeks prior".

A psychiatrist called by the defence, Dr Ronan Mullaney, disagreed with his colleague Dr Smith and found that Mr Leitons was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the offence, that he fulfilled all three criteria under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 and qualified for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr Mullaney said the accused's mental disorder was so "apparent, comprehensive and overwhelming" that he was not required to consider the partial defence of diminished responsibility having made the finding that Mr Leitons had a more significant mental disorder.

To meet the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury must find that Mr Leitons was suffering from a mental disorder such that he should not be held responsible for the killing because he did not know the nature and quality of his actions, or he did not know what he was doing was morally wrong, or was unable to refrain from committing the act.

Prosecution barrister Conor Devally SC argued in his closing address that Mr Leitons should be seen as substantially diminished in his responsibility due to the nature of his mental disorder and found guilty of manslaughter on those grounds.

Whereas the accused man's barrister, Michael Bowman SC, asked the jury not to "visit criminal responsibility" on his client in the form of a verdict of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Counsel stressed that Mr Leitons had seen a reality which was detached from the truth and that is what had compelled him to act in the way he did that night.

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Mr Bowman added: "The defence is not asking for gratuity or an excuse for Mr Leitons but rather for a verdict that is in accordance with the preponderance of the evidence, namely not guilty by reason of insanity."

Mr Justice Burns told the 12 jurors that they must be unanimous in their verdict before sending them away to begin deliberations at 10.30am this morning.

In his charge to the jury, the judge said that they can return four verdicts in relation to the murder charge against Mr Leitons, namely; guilty of murder, not guilty, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility or not guilty by reason of insanity.

The judge said the case was unusual in that neither side was pushing for one of the standard verdicts of guilty of murder or not guilty. In reality, he said the jury was being asked to determine between the two verdicts of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility or not guilty by reason of insanity.

The jury will continue their deliberations on Tuesday as several of their number have personal commitments on Monday.

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