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Man accused of murdering pensioner deemed fit to stand trial by Central Criminal Court judge

Patrick McDonagh’s defence team had argued that he was unfit for trial under Section 4 of the Criminal Law Insanity Act.

A 49-YEAR-OLD man accused of murdering a pensioner has been deemed fit to stand trial by a judge at the Central Criminal Court.

Ms Justice Karen O’Connor said today that although there was “a strong conflict” in the evidence given by two psychiatrists regarding Patrick McDonagh’s understanding of pleading guilty and pleading not guilty, she did not accept that he doesn’t understand the difference between the two pleas.

A consultant psychiatrist for the defence previously testified that McDonagh believed that entering a “guilty” plea actually meant he would be pleading “not guilty” to the charge.

Whereas, consultant forensic psychiatrist for the State, Dr Mary Davoren, said that the accounts given by the accused were more in keeping with evasiveness rather than a true lack of understanding.

Delivering judgement today, Ms Justice O’Connor said the court was not satisfied that McDonagh was unfit to be tried.

The defendant, who is accused of the murder of pensioner Peter McDonald (77) in the Whitechapel Road area of Clonsilla, Dublin 15, on 25 July 2020, was remanded in custody to the next list to fix trial dates.

The accused’s defence team had argued that McDonagh was unfit for trial under Section 4 of the Criminal Law Insanity Act and that he suffers with schizophrenia.

Defence witness Professor Patricia Casey had told the court that McDonagh believed that by pleading “guilty” to the charge in a court, he was denying the charge and was actually pleading “not guilty”.

Casey said that she interviewed McDonagh seven times, which took up to a total of six hours, and that she believed him to be unfit for trial and had a long-standing psychiatric illness, most likely schizophrenia.

She told defence barrister John D Fitzgerald that in her early interviews with McDonagh he appeared “paranoid, was constantly looking at the door because of prison officers on the other side” and that he would “constantly” bless himself.

In her evidence, Casey said that she believed McDonagh has a learning disability and contradictions made by him in his interviews could be because of that, in addition to him being “acutely ill”. She said McDonagh’s inconsistency with dates and histories was normal for someone with a learning disability.

Casey said she had asked how McDonagh would plead to the charge and told the court that the accused said: “Guilty, because I did not do it.” Casey said she explained what guilty meant but that McDonagh repeated this in interviews.

She said that it was “impossible” to make McDonagh understand the meaning of “guilty”. Casey said McDonagh believes that “if he pleaded not guilty he would have admitted committing a crime, which he rejects”.

Casey said she repeatedly tried to explain this to McDonagh but that on each occasion it was “not progressed”. She said he was not putting forward “a pretence”.

She said that his inability to retain information was similar to memory problems suffered due to “alcohol brain damage” and that he “absolutely” had a history of schizophrenia going back to 2014. She added that he had a troubled, chaotic upbringing and abused drugs from when he was 15 years-old.

“In my opinion he is unfit to be tried. He is also unable to enter a plea since he believes a guilty plea means innocent and vice versa,” she said.

However, State witness Dr Mary Davoren, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, disagreed and said McDonagh was fit to stand trial and that he was able to instruct his solicitor and legal team.

She told Philip Rahn SC, for the State, that when she interviewed McDonagh, some of his answers were “approximate” ones and she believed these types of answers were deliberately incorrect and were associated with feigning a mental condition.

In her view, she said that McDonagh did not present with any major symptoms of a mental disorder which would affect his ability to stand trial and that his answers were “more in keeping with evasiveness” rather than a true lack of understanding.

Davoren said McDonagh told her he was having visual and aural “dual-modality” hallucinations regarding a bull outside his cell that occurred at the same time, which she said was not possible for someone with schizophrenia or psychosis. She added that McDonagh said he heard voices inside his head, which was also atypical, as people with schizophrenia usually hear voices coming from the outside world.

Davoren said that McDonagh had been taken off the waiting list for the Central Mental Hospital by the admission panel because he did not meet the threshold for entry under the Mental Health Act.

Alison O'Riordan