A 30 year-old Galway man accused of murdering his cousin was “a very vulnerable person” with a mild to moderate mental handicap, a defence witness told a jury at the Central Criminal Court today.
The jury has heard evidence from consultant clinical psychologist Ms Deirdre O’Donnell that the accused, Mr Patrick Harty, had a “mild to moderate range of mental handicap” and only performed better than 1 per cent of his age cohorts in intelligence tests.
“I would describe Patrick Harty as a very vulnerable person given his level, ” said Ms O’Donnell.
Ms O’Donnell was giving evidence to defence counsel Mr Gerard Clarke SC in the murder trial of Mr Harty, a traveller with an address at Carrowbrowne, Headford Road, Galway.
He is pleading not guilty to the murder of his cousin Mr Thomas Harty at Woodlands Park Halting Site, Ballymorris Road, Portarlington, Co Laois on Sunday 16 May 1999.
He also denies a second charge of possession of a shot gun with intent to endanger life.
The victim, Mr Thomas Harty (26), died from two gun shot wounds to the chest and back after two men broke into his caravan at dawn and shot him in bed, where he lay with his wife and children.
Mr Patrick Harty allegedly drove the getaway car for the two men, neither of whom have ever been charged with murder.
The murder weapon was never recovered but is believed to be a stolen double-barrelled shot gun.
The psychologist told the jury today that she interviewed and assessed Mr Patrick Harty on 8 November 2002 and described him as “very timid and guarded” and said he spoke “in a childlike manner” when answering her questions.
She came to the conclusion that his ability to articulate and understand the seriousness of the charge against him would be “compromised by his intellectual limitations”.
“He stated that he had been held in Tuam Garda Station and said he had ‘been through hell’,” she told the jury.
She told Mr Clarke SC that she counted a total of 17 and a half hours of interrogation in Tuam Garda Station and said that for someone of his ability “that would have to have been quite exhausting and tiring”.
She told the jury that Mr Harty would try to compensate for his lack of intellectual ability by giving way to others: “He would tend to please others in relating to them and would be very easily led in general,” she added.
She went on to say that it would be “highly recommended” that anybody with a mental handicap would be questioned by Gardaí in the presence of somebody they knew, such as a wife or a social worker.
Mr Harty’s wife was questioned separately from him in Tuam Garda Station, the jury heard, while Mr Harty was questioned alone.
Cross-examined by prosecution counsel Mr Edward Comyn SC, Ms O’Donnell explained that an individual with an IQ of less than 70 is considered to have a learning disability or to be mildly intellectually handicapped.
Ms O’Donnell said it was “highly recommended that they be interrogated during daylight hours only”.
The jury heard evidence earlier today from Detective Sergeant Thomas McGrath that he arrested Mr Harty at 3.17am on 18 July 1999 and brought him to Galway District Court in the middle of the night to formally charge him with the two offences of murder and possession of a firearm.
“I didn’t do it,” was Mr Harty’s reply when the charges were put to him that night.
The jury also heard evidence from Dr John Cunningham that he treated Mr Harty with prescribed painkillers when he complained of dizziness, chest pain and vomiting the morning after his interrogation at Tuam Garda Station.
The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice John Quirke and a jury of eight men and four women.