A Syrian national used a carving knife to slash another man across the forehead at a hostel in Cork and he falsely imprisoned another man in a bedroom until a trained negotiator persuaded him to release the victim.
Kheder Zreik has now been found not guilty of the crimes by reason of insanity.
The 47-year-old pleaded not guilty to assault causing harm to 55-year-old Zouhair Maagli at the kitchen of Oscar’s hostel on Lower Glanmire Road, falsely imprisoning 40-year-old Colbert O’Sullivan in a bedroom at the hostel, obstructing Sergeant Martin O’Sullivan and two counts related to producing a knife.
The jury of seven women and five men only required moments of deliberation to return to Cork Circuit Criminal Court with a unanimous verdict that Zreik was not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the incidents on March 7, 2019.
Detective Sergeant Kieran O’Sullivan said the defendant was in the kitchen of the hostel with Mr Maagli on that date when he got into a verbal conflict with him in Arabic. He then slashed the injured party across the forehead with a large carving knife from the kitchen, leaving Mr Maagli with a wound that required seven stitches.
Gardaí arrived at the scene but the defendant had left. After the gardaí left the hostel the defendant returned and went to a bedroom where Colbert O’Sullivan was present. Mr O’Sullivan made a number of attempts to leave but Zreik stopped him and pushed him back on two occasions.
A team of gardaí from the armed support unit, including a trained negotiator, arrived on the scene and were concerned that the accused might have been in possession of the knife used in the assault in the kitchen earlier.
The negotiator spoke with the accused for an hour before he agreed to release Mr O’Sullivan. Very soon afterwards, the armed support unit made a forced entry into the room and arrested the accused.
Prosecution barrister Donal O’Sullivan said it was obvious from the bizarre nature of the responses to questions given by the defendant when interviewed that he was not well.
Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright concluded that the accused was acutely psychotic, suffering delusions and hallucinations at the time of the incidents and that he did not understand that his actions were morally wrong.
“He believed he was protecting himself from immediate danger. His ability to reason and to judge situations was significantly impaired,” Dr Wright testified.
The defendant told the psychiatrist he had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia in Syria and had begun to experience deeper depression and anxiety in Greece in 2007/8. He later married an Irish woman and moved to this country but they separated in 2015.
Dr Wright said his auditory hallucinations included believing that people saying innocuous things on television were making coded threats or criticisms directly to him. During an interview where he was generally coherent with the psychiatrist, he also had moments where he expressed the view that the psychiatrist might also be his enemy trying to harm him.
“Once he believed there were cameras inside his home taking pictures of him,” Dr Wright said.
Defence barrister Alison McCarthy said it was accepted that the incidents of March 2019 at Oscar’s hostel did occur but that he was not guilty by reason of insanity.
Ms McCarthy read a report from psychiatrist, Dr Radmir Rakun, stating that the accused was suffering a major psychiatric illness and was unable to refrain from acting in the way he did because of mental illness.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said from the evidence: “There is no need to consider in-patient treatment. He is under medical care. He is taking the treatment… He is to continue to attend Dr Maura Duggan and to keep the peace.” Kheder Zreik gave an undertaking in those terms.