Mum-of-three Christina Anderson has pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility for stabbing a man to death outside her home after spending over a month on trial accused of murder.
Ms Anderson, who has been a patient at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) since shortly after she stabbed 39-year-old Gareth Kelly to death, had previously pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity at the Central Criminal Court. This morning lawyers in the case revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has spent this week considering a plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Ms Anderson was arraigned on the new charge of manslaughter and pleaded guilty in front of the jury that had been sworn to hear her trial. Patrick McGrath SC, for the DPP, said the plea was accepted and the DPP intends to enter a “nolle prosequi” in relation to the murder charge at a sentencing hearing next April.
Michael O’Higgins SC, who acted for Ms Anderson, said that the plea decision was taken “after lengthy consideration and appraisal of this case”.
He said there were “ongoing difficulties on the defence side” arising from a report by consultant psychiatrist Professor Harry Kennedy and the decision to plead guilty to manslaughter was informed by those difficulties. The court has previously heard that Professor Kennedy disagreed with Dr Brenda Wright, a consultant psychiatrist called by the defence who said that Ms Anderson was suffering from bipolar affective disorder and as a result of her mental disorder she was unable to refrain from stabbing Mr Kelly.
Professor Kennedy, the court heard during cross-examination of Dr Wright, had written a report in which he said that Ms Anderson’s behaviour was better explained by cannabis intoxication. Intoxication cannot be used as a defence under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.
Following Friday’s plea, Ms Anderson began to cry as Mr O’Higgins told the court that his client’s first instruction was to “apologise profusely” to the Kelly family for the events that led to Mr Kelly’s death.
Mr O’Higgins said that she was unable to offer an apology earlier because of the trial process but it is a “matter of great regret” for Ms Anderson that the Kelly family had to sit through a rehearsal of the “most unpleasant facts” relating to his death.
Ms Justice Karen O’Connor will hear evidence and submissions relating to sentencing on April 17th when the Kelly family will also be invited to make impact statements to the court.
Ms Justice O’Connor thanked the jury for their service before discharging them. She told the jury that Ms Anderson was taking legal responsibility for the killing and that her plea was entered on the basis that her responsibility was substantially diminished due to a mental disorder, namely bipolar affective disorder.
The judge remanded Ms Anderson in custody after hearing that the accused will be taken to the Dochas women’s prison before being transferred back to the CMH where she is undergoing treatment for her psychiatric condition.
Ms Anderson (41) of Brownsbarn Wood, Kingswood, Dublin 22, stabbed Mr Kelly five times as he tried to start his car outside her home at about 7am on the morning of February 25th, 2020.
Opening the trial last December, Mr McGrath told the jury that Mr Kelly had parked overnight in a space belonging to the Anderson home, something that happened from time to time to the annoyance of Ms Anderson. Mr Kelly, who had never met Ms Anderson, was trying to start his car when she approached him and stabbed him before returning to her house. She then returned and stabbed him again.
At the beginning of the trial Ms Anderson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charge of murdering Mr Kelly. Her lawyers called Dr Wright, who said that Ms Anderson has a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder and as a result she falsely believed that Mr Kelly was a threat to her and her family and that she was morally justified in killing him to protect her family.
She said Ms Anderson was also unable to refrain from acting as she did against what she believed was an “immediate danger”.
The court heard from friends and neighbours of Ms Anderson and from her husband Mark Anderson that her behaviour had become increasingly erratic in the days and weeks leading up to the stabbing. In particular, she had become obsessed with what she falsely believed to be a criminal conspiracy among her neighbours involving gardaí and senior politicians.
Mark Anderson told the trial that he and his wife were cannabis users and would smoke two to three small joints to relax in the evenings after their children had gone to bed.
Because they were regular users, he said they had a high tolerance and found it relaxing.
From 2017 onwards there were times when Mr Anderson said he noticed that his wife’s energy levels and enthusiasm “spiked” and she would become “very eager”. “She is very creative and studied art and sometimes would get obsessed with an art project but not to the detriment of feeding herself or the kids or whatever. It was all in her free time.”
On occasion she complained of feeling depressed and would go to a doctor and began seeing psychiatrists at the Mary Mercer clinic in 2017. She was prescribed medication and never had any problem taking it. “She saw it as managing her condition,” he said.
On February 16th, 2020 Mr Anderson travelled to Canada for work. He didn’t notice anything wrong with his wife before he left but when he landed back in Dublin on February 23rd, two days before the stabbing, she “seemed to be delusional”.
“The house was in disarray. It was much messier than usual with takeaway boxes and pizza boxes all over the place and a big pile of laundry. That would not be typical at all.” When their children asked to go outside she screamed that it was dangerous.
He had never previously seen her act in a paranoid way but she began telling him about a “criminal conspiracy” involving their neighbours and said she was in fear for herself and the children. She attached some significance to a photograph she had found of Bertie Ahern and said that their solicitor was going to come to the house with Michael Jackson.
The following day, a Monday, she was still delusional but had periods of clear thinking, he said, during which she was aware that she was not well and was willing to go to the psychiatric unit. Mr Anderson called Mary Mercer hoping to bring her in that day but they said they didn’t have psychiatric services on a Monday. They agreed to bring her scheduled appointment for the following afternoon forward to 9am.
To relax that night Mr Anderson said he put on an episode of Star Trek but his wife began saying things that did not make sense. She said that she was a goddess and that the whole family would become gods and goddesses. He had never heard her saying anything like that before.
He couldn’t remember if they smoked cannabis that evening but said, “it’s likely, it would have been normal for us.”
They went to bed and the next morning Mr Anderson awoke when he heard the house alarm going off followed by a loud bang. He found that the alarm had been pulled off the wall and believed his wife had done it.
He did not know that his wife had stabbed someone until gardaí came to the house a short time later.
Under cross-examination Mr Anderson told Patrick McGrath SC, for the prosecution, that he and his wife would spend about €200 to €250 per month on cannabis. He did not know how much his wife had been smoking while he was in Canada from February 16th until February 23rd.
The defence also called Dr Johann Grundlingh, a toxicologist. He told the trial that the effects of cannabis typically last from one to three hours. He said that if it is true that Ms Anderson smoked her final cannabis cigarette at about 10pm the previous evening and stabbed Mr Kelly at about 7am, then it is “extremely unlikely she would still have been intoxicated with cannabis”.
Dr Grundlingh told Mr O’Higgins that cannabis intoxication does not explain her behaviour on the morning of the stabbing or in the subsequent weeks during which she was transferred to the Central Mental Hospital where she was found to be acutely psychotic.
Dr Wright said that Ms Anderson’s behaviour was as a result of her bipolar affective disorder and not cannabis intoxication. She also found that Ms Anderson’s capacity to form intent was impaired at the time of the stabbing.
Dr Wright detailed Ms Anderson’s psychiatric background, saying she was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2004 when she was aged 22. She was experiencing depressive symptoms brought on by stress at work and relationship difficulties. She was using cannabis weekly and occasionally other drugs including cocaine and ecstasy.
Following the birth of her third child in 2017 Ms Anderson showed “extremely depressive symptoms” and in 2018 she described being elated and impulsive and spoke about having an “alter ego” named Nicky.
Later in 2018 her mood was described as low and towards the end of that year she suffered from disrupted sleep and had thoughts of self harm. She reported increased irritability and abnormal perceptions.
She was diagnosed with schizo affective disorder in December 2018. By the end of 2019 Ms Anderson described having low moods and panic attacks which she attributed to a stressful situation with her neighbours. The court has heard that she filed a defamation case against one of her neighbours after a comment was made about her on a community WhatsApp group. In the weeks leading up to the stabbing she sent multiple texts and emails to friends, family members and her solicitor falsely alleging that her neighbours were involved in a criminal conspiracy.
Dr Wright said in the week leading up to the stabbing, Ms Anderson’s mood was elevated, her sleep was disrupted and she continued to use cannabis daily. Her alcohol consumption increased from nine units per week to 4.5 units per day.
She warned her family and friends that she and her family were “in danger” and when interviewed later by medical professionals reported an increase in the intensity and frequency of auditory hallucinations. She had a “persecutory delusion” that she and her family were going to die and she slept with a knife under her pillow. In the days before the stabbing she believed there was a sniper in her attic and her husband described her as “hysterical”. She had grandiose delusions such as that she was a goddess, that Michael Jackson was going to visit her home or that she was a character from Star Trek.
Dr Wright said it is her view that Ms Anderson has bipolar affective disorder, which the witness said is a recognised mental disorder under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.
Dr Wright added that Ms Anderson did understand the nature and quality of her actions and she understood that what she did in stabbing Mr Kelly was legally wrong. However, she “harboured a psychotic moral justification for her actions – she delusionally believed her life and the lives of her family were in danger and that in killing Mr Kelly she was protecting them all.”
She described this as a “persecutory delusional belief, a false belief with no rational basis.”
When Mr O’Higgins asked if Ms Anderson was able to refrain from the act of stabbing Mr Kelly, Dr Wright said: “Ms Anderson delusionally believed the danger to her family she had been concerned with for days had become an immediate danger rather than a non-specific danger. In that context she was unable to generate an alternative way to behave and so was unable to refrain from acting as she did.”
Mr O’Higgins has told the court that before the DPP accepted the manslaughter plea, Dr Wright had provided a supplemental report that was written up while the trial had been adjourned for the Christmas break.