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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 16 December, 2019
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Man admits to killing landlord Tom O'Gorman before removing organs

Tom O’Gorman, a journalist and Iona Institute researcher, was stabbed to death at his home last year.

Saverio Bellante is charged with stabbing Tom O'Gorman to death last year.
Saverio Bellante is charged with stabbing Tom O'Gorman to death last year.

Be advised that some of the details in this report are graphic in nature.

THE TRIAL OF an Italian man charged with murdering his landlord in Castleknock has been told that his anti-psychotic medication was stopped two days prior to the murder.

Saverio Bellante from Palermo in Sicily has pleaded not guilty to the murder.

The body of Tom O’Gorman, a journalist and Iona Institute researcher, was discovered at his Castleknock home at Beech Park Avenue in the early hours of the morning on 12 January last year.

Stab wounds

The 39-year-old was found by gardaí slumped over in his living room with a blunt force trauma to the head. He also suffered stab wounds to the head, neck and chest.

A large hole, measuring 10 by 10 centimetres, had been cut into his chest and his insides were visible. Part of the right lung had been removed from the chest and taken into the kitchen by Mr Bellante.

Sitting next to a translator in a grey pin-striped suit, black tie and blue shirt, 36-year-old Bellante listened as the state’s prosecution told the jury that the reason of insanity would be crucial in this case.

The jury was told that Bellante can benefit from a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity if it is proven that he was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the murder.

Anti-psychotic medication

Mr Patrick Gageby SC for the prosecution said it was up the jury to decide if Mr Bellante should be held responsible for the killing on the basis of whether he knew what he was doing was wrong or by determining that the “illness was in the driving seat”.

The jury was told that two days before the murder he had attended an out-patient appointment at a Dublin clinic where the anti-psychotic medication Olanzapine he had been on was stopped.

The psychiatrist for the prosecution Dr Stephen Monks said Mr Ballante had told him he had attended the clinic since arriving in Ireland in 2011. He attended every two months.

Mr Bellante said he had been told that he would have to remain on medication for the rest of his life by doctors in Italy.

However, medical records show that between January 2012 and January 2014 Mr Ballante’s anti-psychotic medication was gradually reduced in 2.5 milogramme steps up until 9 January 2014 when it was brought to zero.

Mr Ballante was also on a second medication: a mood stabiliser, sodium valproate. Following blood tests after the murder this was found to be lower than the therapeutic measure generally given.

However, Dr Conor O’Neill, psychiatrist for the defence, told the court that one or more doses had perhaps been missed and this medication isn’t the one that keeps psychotic symptoms in check.

Admissions to the jury

Sean Guerin, SC for the defence, made a number of admissions to the jury of seven men and five women, telling them that Mr Bellante killed Mr O’Gorman some time between the evening of 11 January and the early hours of 12 January 2014.

The jury heard that Mr Bellante, who worked for Allergen, a pharmaceutical company based on Lower Leeson Street, was diagnosed with a mental disorder a number of years ago.

In the early 2000s, he was diagnosed with a religious hysterical delirium which involves delusions that he was possibly Jesus Christ.

He had been treated by a psychiatrist and put on anti-psychotic medication.

The court was told that Mr Bellante had rented a room from Mr O’Gorman. The two men had met through an organisation called Focolare, an international movement that promotes benevolent values like brotherhood and unity.

Chess game

On the evening of the murder, the two men were playing a game of chess. The court heard that Mr Bellante moved the king and Mr Bellante said Mr O’Gorman had got angry as he was losing.

Mr Bellante said Mr O’Gorman told him his move was “stupid and perverse” and kept trying to explain he couldn’t do that move.

He said he told Mr O’Gorman he was “a loser not just because he lost the match but because he altered the rules”.

He said Mr O’Gorman did not accept that he was cheating. A phone call was then made to a mutual friend, Brendan Gallagher, at 10.48pm.

Mr Gallagher, who also belongs to the Focolare organisation, told the court that he was attending a charity event at Malahide Castle that evening. He did not answer the call as the phone was left in his bedroom.

He listened back to the call at 11pm. A message had been left by Mr Bellante asking him to mediate a dispute:

Hey pal, this is Sevario. I am here with Tom. We are in trouble. We are fighting about something, if you can call back as soon as possible to help out.

Gallagher told the court he had thought the phone call unusual due to the time of the night and thought that he would call him back the next day.

Emergency services call

At 1.53am gardaí responded to a 999 phone call made by Mr Bellante.

The recording of the phone call was played to the jury. Mr Bellante could be heard in the recording telling the emergency services that Mr O’Gorman was dead and that he had killed him.

“Tom is dead… Tom O’Gorman,” Bellante said.

When asked what happened, he replied: “I killed him… he doesn’t respect rules.”

He told the emergency services his name and that he was the only one in the house at the time.

He said he killed Mr O’Gorman with a training weight and knife. He said they were playing chess.

Mr Bellante stayed on the phone until gardaí arrived at the house.

Large amount of blood

Detective Sergeant Patrick Traynor told the court that Mr O’Gorman’s body had been found in the living room. There was a large gaping hole in his head and chest and there was a large amount of blood.

A sharp broken kitchen knife and training dumbbell were next to the body.

Both items of evidence were shown to the jury.

A plate with lung tissue on it was found in the kitchen. Lung tissue was also found in a frying pan. More tissue was also found in a bin bag in the kitchen.

The jury was played a video recording of a garda interview with Mr Bellante, where he admitted to cutting open Mr O’Gorman’s chest with a knife. He told gardaí he removed the heart with both hands.

“I took them out with my hands,” he said.

He told the gardaí that he did not cut them but they were two pieces, large and small. He said he did not cook the tissue.

Mr Bellante admitted to gardaí that he had eaten part of Mr O’Gorman’s heart. He said he didn’t plan to do it but decided to “at the last minute” stating that it was “important to do it”.

Mr Bellante said he left the smaller piece on a dish in the kitchen as it was not his to eat.

When put to him in his third garda interview that he killed Mr O’Gorman, removed some of his organs and ate them, he replied he could not be sure of the date.

“I just did what I believed I had to do,” said Bellante.

When asked did he know it was wrong to kill someone, he said:

“It is normally wrong to kill a man,” but added not in this case.

He said it was the only “way to finish him”. Mr Bellante made references to the Mafia and said all this was due to “lack of freedom”. He said people want to steal your freedom and the mafia is managed by “political heart and head” and O’Gorman was like this.

Autopsy results 

State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy told the court that Mr O’Gorman had a large gaping hole in his head and chest and some smaller stab wounds. There was also extensive damage caused to the skull.

A lobe from the lung was found on a dish in the kitchen and small amounts in the bin. Some brain tissue was also found on the couch. Part of the right lung had been “crudely excised”. There was also damage to the liver.

There were markings from the knife along the back of Tom O’Gorman’s fingers and on his elbow.

From her autopsy of the body, Dr Cassidy said she determined death had been caused by blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds to the head neck and chest.

“Death would have been fairly swift,” she said.

Psychiatrists’ evidence 

Two forensic psychiatrists told the court that Bellante fulfils the criteria of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr Stephen Monks for the prosecution said he spoke to Mr Bellante about his family and medical history. He told him he had a brother and sister and there was no mental illness in the family.

Dr Monks said Mr Bellante was well educated, having completed a primary degree in political science and international relations. He also completed a masters from a university in Tuscany.

He told Dr Monks that it had taken him 10 years to complete his primary degree as the medication he was on impacted on his concentration.

Dr Monks told the jury his medical records showed his first hospitalisation was in 2005 following a breakdown the year previous. It involved “excessive praying”. He was diagnosed with “mystical religious delirium” where Ballante believed he had to save the world from something.

This manifested itself into believing he had seen the devil and he would often sit in the middle of a circle praying or making the shape of the crucifix with his body – something Dr Monks said was known as “posturing” a symptom associated with Schizophrenia.

Mr Ballante said the days after he was taken off his medication he began to feel different and began interpreting things either as good or evil.

He said he experienced this all weekend, even when he was watching a football match on television, where he said one side was representing good and the other evil. He said when goals were scored this represented the battle between good and evil.

He denied hearing voices but said he felt he had a special ability to interpret the signs.

He told Dr Monks about the evening he killed Mr O’Gorman.

He said while they were waiting for their mutual friend Mr Gallagher to call them back, he went outside for a cigarette.

Mr Ballante told the doctor he was going to tell Mr O’Gorman about good and evil when he was out having a cigarette and said he would ask Mr O’Gorman if he could smoke inside as he normally wasn’t allowed.

He said Mr O’Gorman agreed. He said he remembers seeing two peat briquettes in the fire and interpreted them as good and evil – one as him and one as Mr O’Gorman. He told his doctor that he poured water over the ashes and asked Mr O’Gorman if he wanted to and he said no. He said he thought this would end the fight between good and evil.

He said he decided in that moment to take the knife. He said he thought Mr O’Gorman was the devil.

“I thought to get rid of evil was to eat the heart,” he said. He said he initially attempted to cook the organs but said it would be too crazy, so he ate it raw.

‘Acute psychosis’

Dr Monks maintained that Mr Ballante held the belief at the time that killing Mr O’Gorman and eating his heart would put an end to evil in the world.

“He was suffering from an acute psychosis when he killed Mr O’Gorman… he did not know nature of the act he was carrying out.

He thought what he was doing was right and completely justifiable.

The court was told that since his arrest Mr Ballante has been detained in the Central Mental Hospital where he has had setbacks and shown improvements.

Dr Monks said at Christmas time in 2014 Mr Ballante had become emotional indicating he was distraught about how his actions had impacted on the family of the victim and his own family.

Both psychiatrists diagnosed Mr Ballante as suffering from schizophrenia.

The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow.

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