Murder defendant’s mental health ‘significantly contributed’ to Garda shooting

Eoin Reynolds

Murder defendant Stephen Silver suffered from a mental disorder which ‘contributed significantly’ to his actions when he shot and killed Gda Colm Horkan, a consultant psychiatrist at the Central Criminal Court has said.

Dr Brenda Wright diagnosed Mr Silver with bipolar affective disorder and said his mental capacity was diminished by his illness and therefore his responsibility for the act was diminished.

She agreed with defense barrister Roisin Lacey SC that Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act states that where a person on trial for murder suffers from a mental disorder which substantially reduces his liability, a jury must find her not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

Appropriate Defense

The expert witness added: “I am of the opinion that the impairment of his thinking, perception, emotions and judgment caused by his mental disorder contributed significantly to his actions at that time and a defense under Article 6 would be appropriate.”

Dr Wright further concluded that Mr Silver’s illness was ‘secondary’ to his inability to take the medication he had been prescribed after he was hospitalized eight months previously. The doctor acknowledged on cross-examination that Mr. Silver repeatedly decided not to take medication for many years despite medical advice.

Dr Wright, who was called by the defense of Mr Silver, told prosecution barrister Michael Delaney SC that she disagreed with Professor Harry Kennedy, also a consultant psychiatrist, who found Mr Silver may have been in the early stages of a relapse of bipolar disorder but had “substantially intact mental capacity” at the time of the shooting.

Mr Silver (46), a motorcycle mechanic from Aughavard, Foxford, Co Mayo, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Det Garda Horkan knowing or not caring whether he was a member of An Garda Siochana acting in accordance with his duty.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility, in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon on June 17, 2020.

Interviews

Dr Wright told Ms Lacey that in coming to her diagnosis she took into account Mr Silver’s presentation in three interviews she conducted with him in 2020, his record of 17 previous hospital admissions psychiatric records, DVDs of interviews he had given to gardaí after his arrest, and his prison and central mental hospital (CMH) records.

He first fell ill, she said, aged 22 in 1997, and was admitted to hospital against his will eleven times and voluntarily four times until 2010. He has had two more voluntary admissions in 2018 and 2019 before filming Gda Horkan.

Diagnostic

Dr Wright diagnosed the defendant with bipolar affective disorder which she said is a “persistent and major mental illness characterized by mood swings” from depression to elation.

In Mr Silver’s case, she said his mood swings were mostly mania and were accompanied by psychotic symptoms including delusions and hallucinations.

Restlessness and aggression, she said, were often present during her relapses and hospital admissions. She cited examples in 2003 when he injured a nurse at a hospital and another in 2004 when he assaulted a garda who was taking him to hospital.

Assault on security personnel

In 2009 he was alleged to have assaulted two members of security at a psychiatric ward and in 2010 he was noted to be aggressive and violent during an admission.

There was a hiatus in admissions from 2010 to 2018. In 2019 he volunteered to go to hospital but later left and when staff tried to bring him back he assaulted them, said Dr. Wright.

Dr Wright said Mr Silver’s bipolar affective disorder relapses are “often characterized by aggressive behavior as a prelude to involuntary admissions”.

She said Mr Silver’s psychotic symptoms indicate his disorder is “on the more serious end of the spectrum”. She said his delusions often included the belief that he was being threatened or that “people were out to get him”.

She noted that during his interviews with the garda after the shooting, he spoke of a “conspiracy to entrap him” and had “grandiose delusions” about his own importance, power, knowledge and identity.

When he was first admitted to hospital in 1997, he told doctors he was on a special mission and could be Jesus Christ.

After the shooting, he spoke of being a captain in a reserve cavalry and said the cavalry would “come to avenge him”. Grandiose delusions, she says, are characteristic of the disease.

After his admission to CMH in June 2020, he said he could contact Gda Horkan, Dr. Wright noted. He told doctors he asked Gda Horkan what he thought and added: “What I get from him is regret.”

On occasions over the years, Mr Silver had had auditory hallucinations, she said, sometimes asking him to do things, sometimes comforting him, but on other occasions threatening to harm him. She said these are also hallmarks of bipolar disorder.

Shooting

After the shooting, she said there was evidence he had disorganized thinking and that continued through July 2020.

The day before the shooting, she said Mr Silver’s presentation ‘evolved and declined’ with a friend who met him in the afternoon saying he was behaving normally despite other instances of his behavior “not corresponding to his normal state”.

He “doughnuts” on a motorbike in his repair shop when a customer was present and he gave a motorbike to an old acquaintance even though he had very little money, Dr Wright noted.

She said he went from states of elation to anger and added: “It’s not unusual when someone relapses or is in the midst of illness.”

His illness generally resolved with medication and he was discharged from CMH to the prison population in April 2021 after accepting the need to continue taking his medication, Dr Wright said. Since his return to prison, his condition has remained normal.

Choices on drugs

Dr Wright agreed with Mr Delaney, for the prosecution, that over the years Mr Silver had made the choice not to take his medication. She said he believed he would recognize when he was getting sick and be able to deal with it.

She added: “The difficulty with this is that by the time the patient is aware of the first signs, he loses the insight he had before. The relapse has progressed to the point where he no longer accepts that [they need help].”

She agreed with Mr Delaney that patients facing criminal charges may try to mislead a psychiatrist.

“It’s a possibility you should consider,” she said. She told Mr. Delaney that when evaluating what a patient tells her, she looks for collateral information that might inform her assessment.

She also said she disagreed with Professor Kennedy when he said Mr Silver’s actions during the struggle with Gda Horkan and shooting him showed he was capable of ” deliberate acts” and therefore that he had the capacity to form an intention.
She said intentional acts cannot always lead to the conclusion that the person had the capacity to have a specific intention.

Cross-examination of Dr. Wright will continue Thursday before Judge Paul McDermott and a jury of seven men and five women.

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