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Sunday 4 December 2016

'Insane' man who was cleared of murdering mother to get retrial

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a Roscommon man acquitted of murdering his mother by reason of insanity last year has successfully appealed his acquittal and now faces the retrial he had sought.

Paul Henry (29), who lived with his mother Ann at the time, had pleaded not guilty to her murder at The Spinney, Abbeystown, Roscommon, in September 2011.

A jury acquitted Henry of the murder by reason of insanity at a Castlebar sitting of the Central Criminal Court and he was committed to the Central Mental Hospital by Mr Justice Paul Carney on May 7 last year.

misdirection

Henry had sought a retrial so he could plead and be convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, thereby incurring a determinative sentence rather than being under an indefinite regime at the Central Mental Hospital. The DPP sought to have the insanity verdict upheld.

The Court of Appeal first determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the appeal because it is a constitutional court in contrast to its predecessor, the Court of Criminal Appeal.

The three-judge court went on to find that there was an "element of misdirection" by the trial judge, even though there was not much difference between what was said and what ought to have been said.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, ordered a retrial.

Mr Justice Sheehan had suggested during counsel's submissions that the outcome for Henry could be substantially different depending on the verdict.

The current outcome had led to detention in the Central Mental Hospital whereas a conviction for murder would have led to a completely different regime in terms of his health.

One might say, Mr Justice Sheehan suggested, that Henry might have a better life in prison, even if he gets a life sentence.

The court stated that the two different verdicts would have "very significant practical consequences" for Henry, and in those circumstances it was appropriate to allow the appeal and order a retrial.

The appeal raised the question of "where the onus of proof lies" and "what the standard of proof is" when the prosecution contends for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

At trial, the prosecution contended that Henry was "insane" and not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, the judgement stated.

Henry's legal team had urged that the appropriate verdict was guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

What was actually said to the jury was not, in practical terms, very different and that such difference as there was between what was actually said and what ought to have been said would not justify intervention by the Court of Appeal, the judgement stated.

"This court recognises the force of that argument but is not persuaded by it," it said.

It was desirable that a jury should receive the maximum assistance in terms of directions that are clear, focused and concise, the judgement stated.

"Unfortunately, for understandable reasons, that did not happen in this case. Instead, a significant degree of confusion entered the case, which cannot have helped the jury," it added.

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