Woman accused of killing daughter is paranoid schizophrenic, court hears

A Cork woman accused of killing her daughter suffers from paranoid schizophrenia with very fixed delusions, the Central Criminal Court heard today

A Cork woman accused of killing her daughter suffers from paranoid schizophrenia with very fixed delusions, the Central Criminal Court heard today.

Mary Prendergast (aged 49) told gardaí during interviews that Our Lady told her to kill her daughter and that she stabbed her with a knife.

Ms Prendergast, of Glenna Cottages, Commons Rd, Cork, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of Jessica Prendergast (aged 21) at that address on July 29, 2006.

Gardaí found Jessica covered in blood at the foot of the stairs. She had been stabbed 44 times.

Supt Martin Shannon told the jury that a woman named Sandra Byrne, who lived nearby Glenna Cottages, was woken early on the morning of the stabbing.

She thought she heard the sound of crying and heard the words: “She’s dead, why aren’t you helping me?”

Ms Byrne looked outside and saw a woman in pyjamas.

The woman was “panicked and stressed and had a child over her left shoulder.”

Supt Shannon told the jury that the woman then walked to the offices of the Blue Cab taxi company – a three minute walk away.

She passed by the offices a number of times before coming to the hatch and asking for a taxi to the garda station.

There was blood on her face and hair, and on the child she was carrying.

One of the men working at the office called the gardaí and, at 6.10am, Garda John Flynn arrived. He observed that the woman was “very distressed”.

An ambulance was called and took the woman to Mercy Hospital.

The jury heard that, on the way, the woman said “something to the effect that her daughter was possessed by the devil.”

Later, Garda Deirdre Murphy attended to the woman, who told Gda Murphy that her name was Mary Prendergast.

Gda Murphy observed that Ms Prendergast was in a “shocked state, crying, shaking, grinding her teeth.

“There was blood on her left cheek, forehead, hair and left eye.”

Gda Murphy took notes of some of what Ms Prendergast said.

Ms Prendergast said that the baby – Jessica’s two-year-old son – told her that Jessica was “bad with the devil”.

Ms Prendergast said that she “killed Jessica with a knife”.

She said that she “wanted the baby because the baby was Jesus and she wanted to save the baby”.

“I asked the baby was she [Jessica] dead and he told me she was and he clapped his hands.”

She said that the baby made her kill Jessica - “He told me she was the devil.”

The court heard that State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy found forty-four stab wounds and more than 30 puncture wounds on Jessica’s body.

The pattern of injuries suggested that Jessica was attacked while she was lying in bed on her right side.

After she was stabbed, she made her way from the bedroom and down the stairs before finally collapsing at the bottom of the stairs.

The jury heard that Jessica’s brother, Wayne, told gardaí that his mother had been at the dentist in the days leading up to the killing.

“She thought that the antichrist had been injected into her at the dentist.”

Jessica had texted Wayne on the day of the killing to say that their mother was “acting up.”

Wayne understood this to mean “unusual behaviour”.

Ms Prendergast had been released from psychiatric treatment at Cork University Hospital 19 days before the killing and had gone to stay with Jessica and her grandson.

She told gardaí during interviews that she “didn’t sleep at all” the night of the killing.

Supt Shannon said: “She believed she was getting messages from Our Lady from the water dripping into the toilet bowl.”

The bathroom was beside her bedroom.

Ms Prendergast said that Our Lady told her to kill Jessica and that she went downstairs and got a knife from the kitchen, then returned to bed.

“I said to her [Our Lady] when do you want me to do it. She said: ‘I’ll let you know, my love.’ At half-five she said you can do it now.”

Ms Prendergast went into her daughter’s room and stabbed her in the chest in what was described as a “frenzied attack”.

She then took Jessica’s son, left the house and ran to the offices of Blue Cabs.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Brian McCaffrey gave evidence on behalf of the accused.

He said that Ms Prendergast has had illness of a psychiatric nature for approximately 19 years and was admitted to psychiatric institutions on seven occasions before the killing.

He read a referral letter from Ms Prendergast’s GP, dated October 2001.

The letter stated: “This woman has severe paranoid delusions centred around the government trying to kill her. She is getting messages from the TV.

“She has confined herself to her house and is afraid to go out. She is highly suspicious. She spends her time switching off lights, the radio, the TV, etc.”

Dr McCaffrey said that Ms Prendergast was “convinced that medication was given to her to damage or perhaps kill her”.

He diagnosed Ms Prendergast with paranoid schizophrenia with very fixed delusions.

“At the time of the events, she was suffering from an exacerbation of symptoms. They were actually worse that night,” he said.

The jury will be asked to decide tomorrow whether or not Ms Prendergast should be acquitted by reason of insanity.

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