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"We will never forgive him" - Family of woman killed in psychiatric hospital by another patient

The woman’s son said he accepts the patient has a mental illness but said he will “never forgive him for what he did to my mother”.

The Courts of Criminal Justice in Dublin
The Courts of Criminal Justice in Dublin
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

THE FAMILY OF a woman who was stabbed more than 100 times by a man suffering a psychotic episode has described their shock at the manner of her death while she was a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

38-year-old Paul Cuddihy was today committed to the Central Mental Hospital for ongoing treatment.

Two weeks ago Cuddihy, formerly of St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of 55-year-old Maria O’Brien at St Otteran’s on 5 September 2014. The jury reached the same verdict on charges of assault causing harm to fellow hospital resident Mary Nugent and nurses Breda Fennelly, Terry Hayes and Mary Grant.

In his victim impact statement today Maria O’Brien’s son Patrick Halley said he was close to his mother and that she was a vulnerable person who was not always shown the love she deserved.

He added: “Nevertheless, she was always a bubbly and happy person who nearly always had a smile on her face. She was a gentle, kind-hearted person who genuinely wouldn’t harm a fly.” She particularly loved her children, he said, and her last words to Paul Cuddihy were “remember the children”.

“This shows how much she loved us all,” he said. “And she is very much missed by her family and very much missed by myself.”

He said he accepts Paul Cuddihy has a mental illness but said he will “never forgive him for what he did to my mother”. He told the court that he had more to say but that he had been told he was not allowed to say it.

Paranoid schizophrenia

Ms O’Brien’s brother Joe O’Mahony said he grew up not knowing his sister as they were raised separately following the break-up of their parents’ marriage. When they got to know one another as adults they formed a bond.

“Maria was an innately warm-hearted individual who was kind, caring and would greet me and others with great childlike enthusiasm.” He said they had an “unspoken love for each other”.

The manner of her death had left him traumatised, he added, and he has suffered shock and lack of sleep after finding out that she cried out for help and “pleaded with her killer to stop”.

Maria has died and been taken from us in the most horrific way, especially in light of the fact that at this time she was actually making progress and improving. What life could have been like for her we will never know.

Following the statements by Ms O’Brien’s family Dr Damian Mohan, a forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, told the court that he had assessed Paul Cuddihy following the trial verdict and is satisfied that he is still suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He said Cuddihy has made little progress and does not accept that he is ill or needs help.

Evidence in trial

During three days of evidence earlier this month the jury heard that Cuddihy lived with Maria O’Brien, Mary Nugent and four other people at a residential unit on the grounds of St Otteran’s. They had the freedom to come and go as they pleased but they had the support of nurses and staff at the hospital who issued their medication and checked on them regularly.

On 5 September the alarm was raised by one of the residents, Sinead Barron, who called staff from her bedroom saying Cuddihy was attacking someone. Breda Fennelly and Mary Grant told the court that they arrived to find Cuddihy in the kitchen standing over Mary Nugent with a knife in his hand.

Both nurses were injured as Cuddihy turned his attention on them while they tried to calm him down and give Mary Nugent a chance to escape. He slashed Breda Fennelly’s face with the knife and injured Mary Grant’s hands as she prized the knife from his fingers. When assistant director of St Otteran’s Terry Hayes arrived, Cuddihy headbutted, kicked and punched him in an attack that Mr Hayes described as “intense”, adding: “I feared for my life.” It took five gardai and members of St Otteran’s staff to subdue Cuddihy.


Two forensic psychiatrists told the court that Cuddihy was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia many years before this attack. Dr Brenda Wright said he had persecutory delusions and heard voices in his head. In March 2012, two years before the attack on Maria O’Brien, he assaulted his father and told him “I want to send you to an early grave.” He said at the time that his thoughts directed him to attack his father and doctors believed this might mean that the voices in his head had commanded the assault.

At the time of the attack on Maria O’Brien he told Dr Wright and Dr Paul O’Connell that he believed he had to kill her or he would go to hell. He also believed that he would be freeing his family or the world from a curse if he killed her. Both doctors said these ideas were brought about by his illness, and that he did not understand the nature of what he was doing.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis told the court that Maria O’Brien had suffered more than 100 knife wounds to the head and face and blunt force trauma that had bruised her head and broken her nose. She died from blood loss as one of the knife wounds had cut her jugular vein.

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