By Ruaidhrí Giblin
A man who murdered his infant son 17 years ago is seeking to have his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice on grounds that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in recent years.
Yusuf Ali Abdi, with a last address at The Elms, College Road, Clane, Co Kildare, pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to murdering his son, Nathan Baraka Andrew Ali, in an apartment at that address on April 17, 2001.
Abdi’s defence at trial was that he was insane and a number of medical experts were called by the defence to support that view. He claimed he was a zombie and that voices told him to hit the child, so he struck his son against a wall several times, by swinging the child by the legs.
The Prosecution also called a number of medical witnesses to say he was not psychotic. Crucially, the prosecution called Dr Damien Mohan of the Central Mental Hospital who said Abdi was not suffering from psychosis.
Abdi was found guilty of murdering his son by a 10-2 majority jury verdict and given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on May 28, 2003.
He lost an appeal against his conviction in 2004 but was back in court today seeking to have his conviction declared a miscarriage of justice on the basis of alleged new or newly discovered facts.
Counsel for Abdi, Barry White SC, instructed by MacGuill and Company Solicitors, said his client was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2013. In light of the diagnosis, it was submitted that Dr Mohan’s diagnosis in 2003, though bona fide, was “erroneous” and amounted to a new or newly discovered fact which showed there had been a miscarriage of justice.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Jonathan Kilfeather SC, said the 2013 diagnosis was an opinion as opposed to a fact. They argued that allowing Abdi’s appeal would open the floodgates and trials should not be reopened simply due to the passage of time.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said the court would reserve its judgment. He said it was a case that raised significant issues.
During counsel’s submissions, Mr Justice Edwards remarked that unless there were new insights based on advances in science, opinions debated at the time were what mattered.
Mr White said his client came from Somalia to Ireland in 1997 and was granted refugee status in 2000. He married Irish woman Amanda Bailey and they had a son.
In support of his contention that the 2013 diagnosis was a new or newly discovered fact, Mr White detailed a review of material related to Abdi’s experience in detention since his son’s death, which was carried out by Dr Aggrey Washington Burke, a London-based consultant psychiatrist.
The records reviewed by Dr Burke indicated that on discharge from the Central Mental Hospital in June 2003, to begin serving his life sentence, Abdi’s diagnosis was depression with no sustained evidence of psychosis.
On a second admission to the CMH in September 2005, a senior medic was of the view that there was more clinical evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than of any psychotic psychiatric disorder.
In 2007, Abdi was again in the CMH for four months following his assault on a prison officer. He complained of low mood and of hearing voices commanding him to hurt others. He was observed banging his head against the wall. On that occasion, the senior medic believed Abdi’s complaints were not supported by observations consistent with a psychotic illness.
However, a final diagnoses in October 2013, after almost five months in the CMH, were paranoid schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder. Dr Burke noted that Abdi had presented with long-standing delusions involving prison officers and psychiatric staff. He described thought interference from supernatural forces and an extensive persecutory belief system which appeared delusional in nature. A decision was taken to stop his medication, and it was felt his mental state deteriorated. When his medication was recommenced his mood seemed to improve.
Dr Burke further noted that since Abdi’s first admission to hospital in 2001, he has consistently received anti-psychotic medication. Since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2013, he has received increased doses of the said medication with great effect and has not been involved in violent attacks on staff in prison or in hospital.
In light of the diagnosis in 2013, it was submitted that Dr Mohan’s diagnosis, though bona fide, was “erroneous” and amounted to a new or newly discovered fact which showed there had been a miscarriage of justice.