By Ruaidhrí Giblin
A woman on trial for the attempted murder of a civil servant, stabbed a woman in the face at a LUAS stop two weeks earlier, the Central Criminal Court has heard.
Laura Kenna (35), of no fixed abode, is charged with the attempted murder of Fionnuala Bourke on Lower Drumcondra Road, Dublin 9 on January 3, 2017. She is also charged with assault intending to cause serious harm.
Ms Kenna has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to both counts.
Opening the case on Tuesday, prosecuting counsel, Anthony Sammon SC, said the central issue was the state of mind of Ms Kenna at the time. He said the jury would hear evidence from two consultant psychiatrists from the Central Mental Hospital and there would be a conflict in the opinions of the doctors.
Mr Sammon told the jury that Ms Bourke, a civil servant, was walking home from work around 5pm on the day in question when she was attacked by Ms Kenna with a knife. Mr Sammon said Ms Bourke’s “throat was slit” and she suffered “severe facial scarring”.
Upon her arrest the following day the jury heard how Ms Kenna told gardaí:
On the third day of the trial today, the defence called Dr Stephen Monks, consultant forensic psychiatrist based at the Central Mental Hospital, to give evidence on Ms Kenna’s state of mind.
Dr Monks told Barry White SC, for Ms Kenna, that he interviewed the accused on two occasions in 2018 and, in his opinion, Ms Kenna did not know what she was doing when she attacked Ms Bourke and couldn’t stop. As such, Dr Monks said Ms Kenna fulfilled the criteria for a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Dr Monks said Ms Kenna had schizophrenic affective disorder and, at the same time, exhibited psychotic delusions and hallucinations.
He said Ms Kenna believed she was receiving messages from the television and could communicate with celebrities. He said she believed other people could hear her private thoughts which was a classical symptom of schizophrenia.
He told the jury that two weeks before the alleged attempted murder of Ms Bourke, Ms Kenna stabbed a woman at a LUAS stop in the face with a pen.
Ms Kenna believed the woman had been saying things about her under her breath but it was “most likely” the woman hadn’t said anything at all. She had intended to stab her in the eye, the jury heard.
Shortly after being released from garda custody for the LUAS incident, Ms Kenna stated that she thought she was going to be “eaten” and that if she didn’t kill somebody she wouldn’t survive. She stated that she was being talked into killing somebody by the “voices in her head”.
Under cross examination from Mr Sammon, for the prosecution, Dr Monks said Ms Kenna had been labouring under delusions about killing people for a long time before the attack on Ms Bourke and was allegedly “killing someone for a purpose that wasn’t related to stealing a handbag”.
For the prosecution, Professor Harry Kennedy, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, told the jury that he and Dr Monks were in agreement on many matters including Ms Kenna’s diagnosis.
However, Prof Kennedy said Ms Kenna did know what she was doing when she attacked Ms Bourke and was not entitled to the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
By Ms Kenna’s own account, Prof Kennedy said she had gotten a sharp knife to rob somebody and selected an appropriate victim. He referred to Ms Kenna’s comments that she had let another woman “go” and selected Ms Bourke because “she was only little”.
Referring to Ms Bourke’s statement in which she recalled Ms Kenna telling her ‘if you give me your bag, I’ll let you go’ in a normal tone, Prof Kennedy said that had nothing to do with delusion. It was “straightforward” and part of the negotiated robbery.
Prof Kennedy said Ms Kenna knew what she was doing was wrong - she took the bag and ran away - and there was no evidence that she was unable to refrain from committing the attack on account of her condition. She had an ability to cease and desist which she exercised once she had achieved her primary goal which, Prof Kennedy said, was to rob Ms Bourke’s handbag because she had no money.
He said he was unable to connect delusions about supernatural forces with a robbery at knifepoint and a demand to Ms Bourke to give up her bag.
In contrast, Prof Kennedy said he believed Ms Kenna was entitled to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity for the LUAS stop attack - which was recorded by a jury in a previous trial. Prof Kennedy said the victim of the LUAS stop incident gave an account of what Ms Kenna was saying at the time of that assault. It was independent evidence that Ms Kenna was responding to hallucinations at the time. Furthermore, she waited very near to the scene of the assault until the gardaí arrived.
In summary, Prof Kennedy said it appeared Ms Kenna knew the nature and quality of what she was doing when she attacked Ms Bourke, which meant she was not entitled to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
The jury of seven men and five women will hear closing speeches from the defence and prosecution today/tomorrow(FRIDAY) before Mr Justice Robert Eagar advises the jury on the evidence they have heard.
Dr Monks said Ms Kenna had left school after the Junior Cert and was heroin dependent from the age of 17 to 22. She lived a “transient existence” characterised by homelessness, substance abuse and repeated contact with the criminal justice system without any mental health intervention.
He said the onset of mental illness occurred around 2007 and the onset of serious aggression commenced from 2015 onwards. In the year before the alleged attempted murder, she spent time with the Welcome Organisation in Belfast where she perpetrated three violent incidents, two of which were “attempted eye gouges”.
He said she had been admitted to the Central Mental Hospital in January 2017 and, following treatment, her aggressive behaviour reduced. She had stated that she no longer experienced delusional beliefs and was beginning to develop some insight into her previous mental health problems.