Jury in murder case asked to decide whether mental disorder lessens defendant’s liability

A jury was tasked with deciding whether a man’s liability for fatally stabbing his wife was mitigated by a mental disorder brought on by a stroke.

Judge Tony Hunt delivered his indictment on Thursday to the eight men and three women on the jury in the Alan Ward murder trial.

The Central Criminal Court judge said the only logical verdicts available were guilty of murder, not guilty of murder or guilty of manslaughter.

He suggested the jury first consider whether the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Ward intended to cause death or serious injury to Catherine Ward when he stabbed her.

If they were not satisfied that the defendant had the necessary intent, the judge said, they must return a verdict of manslaughter.

If they believe the prosecution has proven that Mr Ward intended to kill or seriously injure, but his liability was “substantially diminished” by mental disorder, they should convict him of manslaughter, a he declared.

Mr Ward (54) pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Ward (41) at their home in Greenfort Drive, Clondalkin, Dublin 22 on March 1, 2019. He also pleaded not guilty to threatening to kill or of causing serious harm to his son Adam Ward, and not guilty of attempting to stab Adam Ward on the same date.

“A terrible human tragedy”

Judge Hunt called the case a “terrible human tragedy”. He said a person should be made of stone to be unaffected by what happened and to have sympathy for those involved.

He told the jury, however, that they had to set aside emotion and sympathy and consider the evidence in a cold, emotionless manner. Courts, he said, are there to “get things out of the emotional realm.”

He told the jury to consider testimony from former assistant state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis, who described multiple stab wounds, including a fatal stab wound that entered Ms Ward’s neck and traveled to a depth of 10cm, cutting his trachea, damaging two arteries and entering his lungs.

Intent, the judge said, can be formed in an instant and a verdict of murder does not require premeditation.

Judge Hut said Mr Ward’s lawyers had given significance to the defendant telling Gardaí ‘it’s not me’ when asked what happened to his wife during the interviews that followed his arrest.

Judge Hunt said the defense was asking the jury to interpret this to mean that such behavior was not normal for him.

The judge said intoxication was also an issue at trial. He told the jury that drunken intent is still intent and intoxication is no defense. But if Mr Ward’s level of intoxication was “so extreme” that it prevented him from forming intent, he could not have the intent necessary for a murder verdict and would instead be guilty of manslaughter.

mental disorder

Judge Hunt said that if the jury finds that Mr Ward intended to kill or seriously injure his wife, then they must consider the defense of diminished liability due to mental disorder.

He said both prosecution and defense psychiatrists had agreed that Mr Ward suffered from a mental disorder stemming from a stroke he suffered in 2017.

He said that for the jury to accept that Mr Ward is entitled to a verdict of manslaughter based on diminished responsibility, the defense must prove that his guilt has been “substantially reduced” due to his mental disorder. The standard of proof required of the defense is that of the balance of probabilities, he said.

Judge Hunt pointed out that Mr Ward had been “drinking heavily” at night, but intoxication is not a mental disorder and is not a defence. If the jury finds that mental disorder played no role in Mr. Ward’s actions, the defense of diminished liability does not apply, he said.

The jury spent about two hours considering their verdicts and will return to court on Friday.

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