A murder accused, who used a fake Facebook profile to meet his ex-girlfriend, told his psychiatrist that he had intended tying her to a chair and forcing her to listen to an account of his suffering, but didn’t intend to kill her, writes Natasha Reid.
The psychiatrist, who testified at his trial today, said he believed him, diagnosed him with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and gave his opinion that his mental state meant he had ‘diminished responsibility’ for the killing.
Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill also told the Central Criminal Court that Eric Locke had developed a mistrust of females, after a number of them taunted him about a physical birth defect.
The Dublin man is charged with murdering 31-year-old Sonia Blount in a room at the Plaza Hotel in Tallaght on the 16th of February 2014.
The 35-year-old, with an address at St John’s Park East in Clondalkin, has pleaded not guilty, but admits causing the death of the mother-of-one, who was found strangled and suffocated.
The trial has heard that he used a fake Facebook profile to meet Ms Blount at the hotel, after she stopped contact with him. He said he brought a pellet gun, Stanley knife and cable ties to frighten her, but she screamed when she saw them and he strangled her.
The prosecution closed its case yesterday morning and Patrick Gageby SC, defending, called consultant psychiatrist Dr Seán Ó Domhnaill.
Dr Ó Domhnaill testified that he had interviewed Mr Locke and his family in November 2015 and that he found him to have signs of ADHD, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
“It became very obvious from the family that Eric, from a very early age, was displaying clear signs of autistic behaviour: the hand flapping, the screeching, high pitched shriek,” he said, indicating that this would arise when children couldn’t communicate their discomfort, usually their psychological discomfort.
He noted that Mr Locke had in excess of 20 jobs over a decade and that this was common with ADHD.
He mentioned an account of Mr Locke assigning human-like qualities to his action figures, telling his sister to be careful what she said about one of them. He explained that this was a feature seen in Asperger’s Syndrome.
Dr Ó Domhnaill said that Mr Locke had been born with a common condition involving his urethra. He said there had been the usual surgical attempts at correcting this, but they hadn’t worked. Instead, they had left him with both the deformity and scarring.
A number of females had taunted him about this over the years.
“This made him distrust females,” he said.
He concluded that he was suffering from a ‘chronic pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified’.
He was asked about his state of mind when he took Ms Blount's life, whether he was able to form the capacity to have intent and follow through on that.
“My belief, having gone over this many times in my head, is that he didn’t foresee what was going to happen,” he said. “In fact, he went up there and, let’s face it, it was not a good intent of essentially tying her to a chair and forcing her to listen to an account of his suffering.”
He said he believed that this was his intention.
“I don’t agree with the opinion that vengeance was a motive, as there’s nowhere in his life history that suggests he was a vengeful person,” he said.
He noted that Mr Locke had used items to kill her that he hadn’t taken with him. The court had heard that these included a mobile phone cable to strangle her and her t-shirt, used to suffocate her by forcing it into the back of her mouth.
“It seems to me that he panicked when she panicked. She panicked when she saw the contents of his bag fall out and started to scream,” he said.
“His description of those essential seconds and minutes was as if it was an out of body experience, almost as if he was watching somebody else doing it,” he recalled.. “That is certainly consistent with how people experience these types of incidents, when their anxiety and stress levels are just through the roof.”
He addressed the question of whether there was a point at which he could have stopped, noting that it takes some time to kill somebody in this way.
“I don’t think, to be honest, that Mr Locke even knows what went through his mind at that time,” he said. “I don’t believe that it was planned. I believe it was a very unfortunate tragic mess.”
Mr Gageby asked him about the legal test for diminished responsibility, which can reduce murder to manslaughter.
“We know that he was suffering from at least one mental disorder, if not two,” he said. “We know that the severity of them was quite extreme in the weeks, particularly the fortnight leading up to the offence,” he continued.
“We know that having been that mentally unwell, it’s highly unlikely he had the level of responsibility on this day that he didn’t display in the previous two weeks. I believe that what occurred occurred as a reason of his inability to control the impulse, the panicked response of Ms Blount,” he added.
“My belief is therefore that, while he did commit the act, his mental state was such that he would be described as having diminished responsibility,” he said “It caused such an extreme level of anxiety and agitation that it rendered him incapable of being considered to have full responsibilities for his actions.”
He confirmed to Mr Justice Michael Moriarty that Mr Locke had expressed remorse. He said he recalled him saying he couldn’t believe he had done it and that it wasn’t fair that her young son would have to grow up without a mother.
Under cross examination by Remy Farrell SC, prosecuting, he agreed that he was being paid privately by Mr Locke’s family
He was asked if it was significant that the accused had told gardai that Ms Blount had inflicted the scratches on his face while he was strangling her.
“It would suggest he had a clearer memory of events than having an out of body experience,” he replied
“Than he's letting on?” asked Mr Farrell.
“Yes,” he responded.
Mr Farrell will continue his cross examination of Dr Ó Domhnaill Tuesday before a jury of eight men and four women.