A teenager, who attempted to murder a woman he met online, had unsupervised access to extreme pornography from a young age, unknown contact with the dark web, and poses a ‘potentially-fatal’ risk to others, according to a forensic psychiatrist.
The Central Criminal Court also heard that his parents were of the view that the antidepressant the then 15-year-old was taking was relevant to why he committed the offence.
The teenager, who cannot be named because of his age, is now 16. He has pleaded guilty to attempting to murder Stephanie Ng on 23rd December 2017 at Sea Front, Queen’s Road, Dun Laoghaire.
He had met his 25-year-old victim on the Whisper social media app, where he had pretended to be 19.
The boy tried to kill her during their first face-to-face meeting, after suggesting they take a selfie by the water’s edge. There, he grabbed her from behind and choked her to unconsciousness before slashing her neck with a knife.
Gardai later found a book of drawings in his bedroom, containing a sketch of someone being cut up with a knife. The words, ‘serial killer’, had been written on another page.
His victim previously gave evidence of taking what she thought was her last breath, as the teenager tried to ‘choke the life’ out of her before leaving her for dead. She later felt that he was frustrated with himself for not having killed her.
A consultant forensic psychiatrist testified at his sentencing hearing today after preparing a court-ordered report on the defendant.
Dr Richard Church told Paul Burns SC, prosecuting, that he interviewed the boy and his parents earlier this month.
The defendant had attended a prestigious secondary school but had made no friends and later moved to another school. His parents said he was bullied by exclusion in school and had been very depressed.
He used to spend from midday to 6am playing video games, including military simulation games. His parents had tried to control and limit his time playing, even cutting off the internet connection at one stage.
The boy was asked about his use of the Whisper app to commit his crime.
“I was trying to improve my social skills,” he said. “I wanted to reject someone like I was rejected.”
He was asked about his sexual behaviour and said that he was interested in girls romantically and also in penises. He’d never had a girlfriend or boyfriend or sexual intercourse.
The boy said that he had watched pornography on the internet since the age of 11 or 12 and that had increased as he got older. He gave a list of several sorts of pornography that he watched.
He also said that he’d used ‘Tor’ browsers, which Dr Church explained were often referred to as the ‘dark web’ and were difficult to trace, with the user’s privacy protected.
The defendant had told him that he knew it was ‘very illegal and messed up’
Dr Church had asked if had watched violent pornography.
“Maybe force but not violent, never blood or choking,” he replied, adding that his parents were unaware that he’d been accessing pornography at home.
He said that his violent thoughts had first started around 2015, which he described as a frustrating time, when he was very angry with himself and had no energy by the end of the day.
They included thoughts of hitting people and hurting them, but he denied having thoughts towards any particular individuals. He said that they had come without him wanting them, were intrusive and persistent. He was started on antidepressants in October 2015.
The defendant had experienced only one physical confrontation before the attempted killing, a scuffle with another boy. However, he had made plans to capture and kill a wild animal, setting a trap for a squirrel.
Both events had occurred when he was on antidepressants and he described experiencing a bombardment of violent thoughts all the time.
The psychiatrist had asked him about the attack on Ms Ng and he said that he had first contacted her two weeks beforehand. He was asked about his messages to her, including asking if she wanted to die in Dublin. He explained that he’d meant in the future, after she’d travelled the world.
“You’re scaring me,” she had replied.
He said that he knew he was going to meet her so he shut down his emotions.
“The performer kicked in,” explained the boy.
He said he was feeling powerful, like he had new blood in his veins.
“I had a voice in my head saying: ‘You have to do this’, so I attacked,” he said.
The boy said he had bought the knife in Lidl, after realising that ‘you could just buy a knife and attack someone’.
“He said he just wanted to attack somebody or a squirrel, but no squirrel came,” testified Dr Church.
He had said that he was going to McDonald's, when he left home to meet his victim that day. He was asked if he was thinking about romantic or sexual possibilities.
“I didn’t really need sex. I could masturbate,” he replied.
The defendant was asked what he was thinking.
“That I had to attack someone as these thoughts won’t stop,” he said, adding that it didn’t matter if it was her or not.
The defendant said he felt energetic, and ‘knew I had to do this’.
“I got out the knife. I choked her and cut into her neck,” he admitted.
She said she’d do anything for him and be his friend. He told her to be quiet and ‘used a sawing action to cut her neck’.
He said that he was shaking afterwards, but didn’t really feel anything. He washed his hands in a restaurant and went home.
He said that he was surprised she had survived.
“I was happy she survived because it meant I wasn't a murderer,” he said. “First, I was not happy she survived because it meant there was more evidence against me.”
The boy told the psychiatrist that he now regretted his actions because he had hurt everyone. He reported feeling complete remorse and said that what he had done was ‘cruel, demonic and evil’.
Dr Church had also interviewed the boy’s parents, who said he’d been skipping school, feeling he would hurt someone. They had sought professional help due to the violent thoughts. They were told that they should remain with him 24 hours a day, and they did so for October, November and December of 2017.
Their son told them that he felt amazing on his prescribed antidepressant, Fluoxetine, also known as Prosac. They said his mood increased and went very high. However, he was restless and irritable.
They said that a turning point had come when he said that the voice in his head was ‘Me’. He had somehow assumed a ‘villain’ persona, ‘the performer’ and told his parents the old boy was dead.
They said he’d committed the offence at the height of those difficulties. It was the first time he’d been let out on his own in months. They had let him out because they thought he was better, but he was actually sick.
Dr Church also had access to a psychologist’s report on the accused, prepared in January of this year. It said that the boy had demonstrated traits of egocentricity, had expressed fantasies of power, control and dominance and had shown a failure to fully accept responsibility for his actions.
Dr Church carried out a risk assessment on the defendant and concluded that he posed a risk to others. He highlighted factors including his ‘violent drawings’, which had begun in primary school, the incident with the squirrell, the fight with the other boy and the attempted killing itself.
He said that the critical factors in evaluating his risk of future violence included his history of voilence, self harm, suicide attempts, peer rejection and low empathy or remorse.
He found a ‘high ongoing risk of violence to others’. This had ‘the potential to be life-changing or fatal’ but was lowered within his current environment in Oberstown Detention Centre.
Other factors he’d considered included the boy’s intense interest in strategic video games, ‘several years of unsupervised access to extreme pornography, unkown contact with the dark web,’ violent thoughts and significant peer rejction at school.
“(He) presents ongoing significant risks to others,” he concluded.
Under cross examination by Patrick Gageby SC, defending, Dr Church agreed that the boy’s parents were of the view that Fluoxetine or Prozac was relevant to why he committed the offence.
Mr Justice Michael White thanked the British doctor for carrying out the court-ordered report, telling him that the court had encountered difficulty in obtaining one.
He remanded the boy in custody until 7th October, when Mr Gageby will put forward the defence case.