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Potential retrial for woman accused of slicing a woman's throat after jury fails to reach verdict

The case was put back to November for a possible retrial.

Image: PA Archive/PA Images

Updated Oct 24th 2018, 10:10 PM

A JURY HAS been unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a woman accused of slicing a civil servant’s throat on her way home from work.

Laura Kenna (35), of no fixed abode, was charged with the attempted murder of Fionnuala Bourke on Lower Drumcondra Road, Dublin 9 on January 3, 2017 and of assault intending to cause serious harm on the same occasion. 

She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to both counts.

The jury were told from the outset that the the central issue in the case was Ms Kenna’s state of mind at the time. They heard from two consultant psychiatrists from the Central Mental Hospital, who gave conflicting opinions.

After approximately four hours and forty minutes of deliberations, the jury returned today unable to reach a verdict. Justice Robert Eagar, who had earlier given the seven men and five women the option of returning a majority 10-2 verdict, discharged the jury after a disagreement was recorded. The case was put back to November for a possible retrial. 

Kenna made no reaction when the disagreement was announced.  

The jury were told that Bourke, a civil servant who was present in court for all seven days of the case, was walking home from work around 5pm on the day in question when she was attacked by Kenna with a knife. Prosecuting counsel, Anthony Sammon SC, said Bourke’s “throat was slit” and she suffered “severe facial scarring”.

Dr Stephen Monks, for the defence, told the jury that Kenna was suffering from psychotic delusions at the time she attacked Bourke and did not know what she was doing and couldn’t stop. As such, Kenna was entitled to the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, in Dr Monk’s opinion. 

He said Kenna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenic affective disorder, had been labouring under delusions about killing people for a long time before the attack on Bourke and was allegedly “killing someone for a purpose that wasn’t related to stealing a handbag”. 

Dr Monks told the jury that two weeks before the alleged attempted murder of Bourke, Kenna stabbed a woman at a LUAS stop in the face with a pen – for which a jury returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. 

Shortly after being released from garda custody for the LUAS incident, she stated that she was being talked into killing somebody by the “voices in her head”.

Diagnosis

Professor Harry Kennedy, for the prosecution, told the jury that he and Dr Monks were in agreement on many matters including Kenna’s diagnosis. 

However, Prof Kennedy said Kenna did know the nature and quality of what she was doing when she attacked Bourke and it had “nothing to do” with delusions. He referred to Bourke’s statement in which she recalled Ms Kenna telling her “if you give me your bag, I’ll let you go” in a normal tone.

By Kenna’s own account, Prof Kennedy said the accused had gotten a sharp knife to rob somebody because she needed money and selected an appropriate victim. He referred to Kenna’s comments that she had let another woman “go” prior to the attack and selected Bourke because “she was only little”.

Prof Kennedy said Ms Kenna knew what she was doing was wrong – she took the bag and ran away – and there was no evidence that she was unable to refrain from what she was doing on account of her condition. She had an ability to cease and desist which she exercised once she had achieved her primary goal which, Prof Kennedy said, was to rob Bourke’s handbag because she had no money.  

In contrast, Prof Kennedy said he believed Kenna was entitled to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity for the LUAS stop attack two weeks earlier. Prof Kennedy said the victim of the LUAS stop incident gave an account of what Kenna was saying at the time of that assault. It was independent evidence that Kenna was responding to hallucinations at the time. Furthermore, she waited very near to the scene of that assault until the gardaí arrived, Prof Kennedy said. 

Detective Sergeant Ken Hoare, from Mountjoy Garda Station, told Mr Sammon, for the prosecution, that Ms Bourke was walking home from work along Drumcondra Road when she noticed a woman, Ms Kenna, sitting on the wall of a house near the ‘Bishop’s Palace’.

As Ms Bourke approached, Det Sgt Hoare said Ms Kenna “sprung up” and pushed Ms Bourke backwards onto the grassy area between the footpath and traffic. He said Ms Kenna was on top of Ms Bourke and that Ms Kenna started to stab her. 

Det Sgt Hoare said Ms Bourke could feel short, sharp stabs going into her upper body and a “dramatic slash” across the front of her neck. She thought she was going to be killed. 

The detective said Ms Kenna didn’t ask or demand anything from her immediately prior to the attack but later said words similar to: ‘If you give me your bag, I’ll let you go’. 

Ms Bourke managed to free herself and tried to stop traffic screaming that she had been mugged, that her bag had been taken and that she had been cut. An ambulance arrived at the scene and Ms Bourke was observed as having a large, deep cut across the front of her neck. It was 8cm in diameter and had penetrated through the muscle. It had cut through to the thyroid gland and there was a suspicion of damage to the oesophagus. Following a medical procedure, she spent time in the Intensive Care Unit, Det Sgt Hoare told the jury.

He said Ms Kenna was identified from CCTV footage in Drumcondra and was arrested the following day in Tallaght. She was found to have blood on her clothing, a knife and items of property belonging to Ms Bourke. 

Admission of guilt

Upon her arrest and caution, Ms Kenna told gardaí: “I’m guilty. Yeah, I fucking did it. Is she still alive? Yeah I did it, I sliced her like you would a goat. You couldn’t have stitched that up, I cut through her like butter,” the jury heard. 

Cautioned again, Ms Kenna said: ‘She took my house away from me, that’s why I killed her. Fuck her, from the Department of Social Welfare (sic), she’s meant to look after people”. 

During garda interviews two days after the attack, Ms Kenna told gardaí that she hadn’t known Ms Bourke beforehand, “she just happened to work for that lot” referring to the Department of Social Protection.

She told gardaí that she had left her accommodation on the day in question and had to get some money because she would never “go out” without money. “There she (Ms Bourke) was, so I just attacked her”. She said Ms Bourke’s money would have “done me for days,” the jury heard. 

“I’m just an opportunist,” she told gardaí, and Ms Bourke just happened to be walking by at the “wrong place, wrong time”. She said she decided to kill Ms Bourke and did not know how she survived. She told gardaí that she “wanted to see her die” and had a fascination with seeing “the life drain out of people”. It was something she was “starting to practice,” she told gardaí, and she didn’t want to “let them live”.

She told gardaí that she had followed another woman along the Drumcondra Road shortly before the attack but “let her (the first woman) go”, the jury heard. 

When shown CCTV footage from Drumcondra Road on the day in question, Ms Kenna located the point at which she followed the first woman. When asked what she was doing at another location on Drumcondra Road, Ms Kenna said she was “picking a victim”, the jury heard. 

When asked if she understood Ms Bourke was severely injured, Ms Kenna said she didn’t care. When asked if she had any sympathy for Ms Bourke, Ms Kenna said she only had sympathy for herself, Ms Kenna.

Dr Monks told the jury that Ms Kenna had left school after the Junior Cert and was heroin dependent from the age of 17 to 22. She lived a “transient existence” characterised by homelessness, substance abuse and repeated contact with the criminal justice system without any mental health intervention. 

He said the onset of mental illness occurred around 2007 and the onset of serious aggression commenced from 2015 onwards. In the year before the alleged attempted murder, she spent time with the Welcome Organisation in Belfast where she perpetrated three violent incidents, two of which were “attempted eye gouges”. 

Dr Monks said she had been admitted to the Central Mental Hospital in January 2017 and, following treatment, her aggressive behaviour reduced. She had stated that she no longer experienced delusional beliefs and was beginning to develop some insight into her previous mental health problems.

Comments have been disabled as legal proceedings are ongoing. 

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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