Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Alison O'Riordan

A man with paranoid schizophrenia who stabbed a woman he was having an affair with to death has been found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The 12 jurors returned their verdict by a majority of 10 to two, after eight hours and 34 minutes of deliberations over two days. They agreed that the accused, Valerijs 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.

The jury of seven men and five women rejected the defence case that Leitons’ “deep-seated and engrained mental illness” had “crossed the threshold” of diminished responsibility and brought him into “a further place”, namely not guilty of her murder by reason of insanity.

The week-long trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that Leitons and Skaidrite 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.

Multiple stab wounds

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, testified 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 gardaí “we were playing a sexual game” when arrested on suspicion of the crime.

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

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 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.

Mental disorder

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 Leitons had a more significant mental disorder.

In his closing address, prosecution counsel Conor Devally SC said that Dr Smith had concentrated to a greater degree on what was proximate to the event such as the accused’s text messages and garda interviews and what had arisen from them. Counsel said Dr Smith’s view was that Leitons was aware of his psychotic condition and therefore had sufficient insight to deprive him of the three criteria under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.

To have met the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury must have found that 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. However, the jurors found that the accused man did not meet any of these three criteria.

Referring to the third criteria of being unable to refrain from committing the act in his closing speech, Mr Devally said that when it came to compulsion, it did not appear from the evidence that the accused “had no other way out”.

‘Criminal responsibility’

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 in his closing speech that Leitons had seen a reality which was detached from the truth and that is what compelled him to act in the way he did that night.

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.”

In his charge to the jury, Mr Justice Paul Burns said that the jury could 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 case was unusual, the judge said, in that neither side was pushing for one of the standard verdicts of guilty of murder or not guilty.

Mr Bowman asked Mr Justice Burns for an updated psychiatric report for his client as there was “a designated mental health issue at play”. “It may help in ultimately deciding how the case is disposed of,” he added.

The judge remanded the accused in custody until December 8th for a sentence hearing and directed the preparation of a victim impact report on that date. The case will be mentioned on November 23rd next.

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