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06 Jul 2022

Mentally ill man jailed for killing woman during 'sexual game'

Court told Garda's injuries "incompatible with life"

Criminal Courts of Justice

A man with paranoid schizophrenia who stabbed a woman he was having an affair with to death during what he described as "a sexual game" has been jailed for 12 years.

During the trial, an American tourist described her encounter with the blood-covered victim at a Dublin aparthotel as being "like the movie Carrie". "She looked me in the eye and under her breath, what breath she had, said: ‘Help me’,” Debbie Halley had told the Central Criminal Court.

Another American tourist described how he and his friend used a chair and a fire extinguisher to fight off Valerijs Leitons as his victim Saidrite Valdgeima lay bleeding to death in the corridor of the complex two years ago.

Sentencing 25-year-old Leitons on Tuesday, January 18, Mr Justice Paul Burns said mother-of-three Saidrite was the victim of an extremely violent and sustained knife attack. The judge described the incident as a "brutal attack" upon "a defenceless woman" but said it must be noted that the accused was suffering from a mental disorder at the time. 

He added: "There is a recognition that a mental disorder can diminish but not eliminate the degree of culpability which the accused must bear for his actions". 

Ms Valdgeima was stabbed over 50 times at an aparthotel in Dublin in June 2019 because her killer believed she was an enemy agent with a weapon sent to harm him.

Leitons, a Latvian man with an address at St Kevin’s Gardens, Dartry, Dublin 6, had pleaded not (NOT) guilty by reason of insanity to murdering Ms Valdgeima (34) on 26 June 2019 at the Binary Hub aparthotel on Bonham Street, Dublin 8.

Last October, a jury rejected Leitons' plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and returned a verdict of manslaughter but with substantially diminished responsibility due to his mental disorder.

The jury rejected the defence case that Leitons' "deep-seated and engrained mental illness" had "crossed the threshold" of diminished responsibility and brought him into "a further place", namely not guilty of her murder by reason of insanity. 

The week-long trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that Leitons and the deceased, a Latvian woman who worked as a translator, had struck up a friendship that became a sexual relationship. The couple met at a concert in May 2019 and began seeing each other frequently.

A pathologist’s report found Ms Valdgeima had suffered “multiple penetrating slash and stab wounds, particularly to the face, head and neck”. Dr Allan Cala, who carried out the post-mortem examination, testified that the deceased had "defence-type injuries on both arms". He suggested these likely happened when she tried to grab the knife or tried to block it.

The accused told gardai that "we were playing a sexual game" when arrested on suspicion of the crime.

Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice Burns said the victim and accused had met on previous occasions but only knew each other for a month prior to the killing. 

Eye-witnesses, he said, had described Ms Valdgeima begging for help as the accused stood calmly over her saying "it was only a game". The accused was under the delusional belief that "he was under a spy network against him" and the attack on the victim was so severe that she did not survive, said the judge. 

Passing sentence, Mr Justice Burns said the jury had concluded that Leitons knew the nature of his act, that he did know what he was doing was wrong and that he could have stopped himself from doing it. 

"It is clear from the victim impact statements that the lives of the deceased's family are devastated by the killing. Her children must find a way to recover a sense of well-being," said the judge. 

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said Ms Valdgeima's life was taken in "a horrific knife attack" and the attack had been pre-meditated to some extent. Prior to the killing, Leitons had come under mental health services and had ceased taking his medication, the court heard. 

In the absence of a mental disorder, the judge pointed out that the killing of Ms Valdgeima would have amounted to murder and a compulsory life sentence would have been imposed on him. However, the judge explained that the accused must "bear a degree of responsibility" for what happened that night saying: "There is a recognition that a mental disorder can diminish but not eliminate the degree of culpability which the accused must bear for his actions". 

The judge set a headline sentence of 15 year in prison. Aggravating factors included the level of violence used, the use of a knife and there being an element of premeditation albeit with a mental disorder. 

In mitigation, he noted the accused's lack of previous convictions, his remorse and that the plea entered by the defendant was dictated by the medical report. 

Leitons was sentenced to 13 years in prison with the final year suspended for a period of five years. It was backdated to June 27, 2019. 

The judge expressed his sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of the late Ms Valdgeima. 

At Leitons' sentencing hearing last December, prosecuting barrister Conor Devally SC read a victim impact statement by Ms Valdgeima's 17-year-old daughter. She wrote that she had "been robbed of a lifetime with the person most precious to me" and that she suffered nightmares of people coming to stab her family.

Ms Valdgeima's eldest of three daughters said the family had been "devastated" by the loss of their mother and that she herself had to become a "mother figure" to her two younger sisters.

She said that when her father woke her to tell her of her mother's death "my heart dropped and the world stopped". She said the family had been keen competitors in Irish dancing but that had since stopped as it was too much a reminder of her mother, who would travel with the children and support them.

Ms Valdgeima's daughter said she wondered about her mother's final thoughts and that she had cried herself to sleep, suffered anxiety, was in a continual state of high-alert and found it difficult to get out of bed since her mother's death. She added that it broke her heart to answer questions about her mother's killing from her two younger sisters.

Ms Valdgeima's 15-year-old  daughter, in her victim-impact statement, said she could not describe the hurt of not having her mother and that she would never be the same. She said her "number one best friend" was gone forever and that she would never get a hug, go Irish dancing, cook food, or go for long walks with her again.

The youngest daughter, who is seven years-old, said she was "really sad" and that she missed her mum and "all the fun stuff with her".

At trial, consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Damien Smith from the Central Mental Hospital told the trial that the accused was suffering with a mental disorder but was not impaired enough to meet any of the three criteria for a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict. The expert witness, who was called by the prosecution, testified that the incident happened during an "acute psychotic lapse of paranoid schizophrenia most likely precipitated by his non-adherence with prescribed antipsychotic medication up to three weeks prior".

A psychiatrist called by the defence, Dr Ronan Mullaney, disagreed with his colleague Dr Smith and found that Leitons was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the offence, that he fulfilled all three criteria under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 and qualified for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

In his charge to the jury, Mr Justice Burns said that the jury could return four verdicts in relation to the murder charge against Mr Leitons, namely; guilty of murder, not guilty, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility or not guilty by reason of insanity. The case was unusual, the judge said, in that neither side was pushing for one of the standard verdicts of guilty of murder or not guilty.

At the sentencing hearing last December, defence counsel Michel Bowman SC said his client had told doctors that he had paranoid hallucinations about the CIA, FBI and KGB. He believed they were putting him under surveillance and competing for his services, because of his superior intellect, by sending him continual messages through the internet and television.

Mr Bowman said Leitons "absolutely erroneously believed" that Ms Valdgeima meant to cause him harm and that he had received a specific instruction to "kill the agent", referring to the deceased.

Counsel added that his client would also barricade the front door of the apartment, where he lived with his mother, due to his ongoing paranoia about being surrounded by "agents".

Detective Garda Denise Bambrick told Mr Devally that at around 3am, guests at the Binary Hub became aware of raised voices and saw a "substantial amount of blood" in the corridor coming from Ms Valdgeima. The victim was still alive but was lying on the floor, with Leitons next to her.

Det Gda Bambrick agreed with Mr Devally, who said that on the night three tourists tried to save Ms Valdgeima from Leitons and used a chair and a fire extinguisher to try to help separate her from Leitons.

The detective agreed with Mr Devally that Ms Valdgeima had suffered stab wounds to her face, neck, head and arms.

Leitons had told the intervening witnesses that what happened was "a game" and that he left the Binary Hub in a "chaotic fashion" after being confronted by two staff members, said counsel.

Det Gda Bambrick said Leitons had violently resisted arrest on the night but had later been deemed fit for interview, during which he was "erratic and evasive".

Mr Devally said Leitons had abandoned his medication three months before the stabbing after an acquaintance told him that he had been taking placebos.

Mr Bowman said his client wanted to apologise to the family and friends of Ms Valdgeima for the "unimaginable loss" he had caused her daughters.

Counsel said the paranoia and hallucinations Leitons was experiencing meant he was "substantially diminished" of responsibility for his actions, adding that substance abuse was not a factor in the killing.

Mr Justice Burns extended his condolences to the family and friends of Ms Valdgeima, saying it had an "obviously huge impact" upon them. 

At the outset of the trial, the deceased's friend Grita Steine said the couple met at a concert in May 2019, and began seeing each other frequently over the following weeks. Ms Steine said Mr Leitons was in the back seat of the car when Ms Valdgeima drove her home from the airport on the night of Tuesday 25 June that year. The witness said she understood her friend intended to go on to stay in a hotel room that night with Mr Leitons, which he had booked.

Sean Miller, an American tourist staying at the aparthotel with his friend Tyler Chen, said he was woken after 3am by screaming and went into the hall to investigate. “I saw a female on the floor covered in blood and then a man sitting next to her with a knife,” he told the court.

Mr Miller asked the man – who he described as at least 6’2” in height and “imposing” -- what he was doing.

“We’re playing a game, go back to bed,” he replied.

He could see the woman was injured and bleeding visibly, he said.

“She was asking me to help her.”

They got between the man and the woman.

Mr Miller said his friend Tyler tried to push the man away with a chair and then sprayed him in the face with a fire extinguisher. "As soon as he sprayed him, he ran," said the witness.

Only then did they manage to pull Ms Valdgeima to their corridor, where they tried to give first aid. "She asked if she was going to die,” he said.

Debbie Halley, another American tourist staying at the same complex, told the court that she saw Ms Valdgeima leaving the room after 3am after being woken by “pounding and kind of a moaning”.

“I knew something was wrong – I went back to the room to say I was going to go get help,” said Ms Halley.

When she stepped back outside she saw Ms Valdgeima standing in the corridor.

“It was like the movie Carrie – head to toe bloodied. She looked me in the eye and under her breath, what breath she had, said: ‘Help me’.”

After Mr Leitons emerged, she ran to look for help, she said.

Dr Allan Cala carried out a post-mortem examination the morning after the 34-year-old suffered the fatal injuries in the Dublin aparthotel complex. He found over 50 injuries to her body, the bulk of them slash and stab wounds which he said were consistent with two knives recovered at the scene by gardaí – one with a partially serrated edge, the other a retractable blade.

He said the wounds to her face, head and neck did not pierce any arteries, but would have “bled significantly” – estimating the area of “thickly congealed blood” where she had been lying amounted to half a litre or more.

“The attack seemed to be very violent and sustained,” he said. Ms Valdgeima was pronounced dead in hospital at 4.49am, after attempts to resuscitate her failed.  

Facilitator attendant at the Binary Hub aparthotel Brian Keenan said the accused was "acting bizarrely and out of his mind" that night.  

Garda Brian Mulvey, from Kevin Street Garda Station, said the accused's hands were "heavily stained" with blood when he placed him in the garda van. When Mr Leitons was asked if he had stabbed a woman in the Binary Hub, the accused said: "We were playing a sexual game."

In his interviews with gardai, Mr Leitons said his partner had tried to provoke him and was "kind of playing with me, toying with me." "She told me she loved me, that wasn't the truth, she was just toying with me. It was a game," he told detectives.

He later said that he had been "fighting for my life", needed treatment and was suffering from "derealisation". The accused told gardai that he thought he had fallen in love with Ms Valdgeima but said she was "toying" with him and because of her behaviour his psychosis had started again. When asked if he had stabbed the deceased, the accused man said: "It looks like it, yes."

Dr Damian Smith, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, said he examined the accused seven times during his time in custody, reviewed his treatment records, interviewed his mother and examined his correspondence with Ms Valdgeima.

He said Mr Leitons had shown symptoms of a psychotic disorder as far back as February 2018 and may have stopped taking his prescription as early as February 2019. He began to believe he was being targeted by “agents” of the FBI or KGB who were following him, and that he was receiving instructions through the mass media.

“He began to believe intelligence agencies were trying to recruit him because of his superior intelligence,” Dr Smith said. Around two weeks before her death, he formed the view that Ms Valdgeima was one of these “agents”, Dr Smith said.

“One week prior he heard a man on the radio say ‘kill the agent’,” Dr Smith said. “Although he believed the message was directed to him “from above”, the accused said he did not intend to act on it.”

But he began carrying the two knives as tools for “self-protection” but “denied he had carried a knife because of a sense of a threat from the deceased,” Dr Smith said.

The knives were taken from him by gardaí when they arrested him near Binary Hub on the night of the killing.

“He believed at the time that his face was swollen and that he was surrounded by agents. He said he was afraid that the deceased was an FBI agent and was going to harm him, kill him,” Dr Smith said.

“He saw her adjust her bra while walking to Binary hub and thought she had a weapon.”

When she offered him a Tic-Tac, he took this to mean she was going to poison him, and had “activated” some toxin in the sweets by shaking the container.

Dr Smith said the defendant told him that when he saw Ms Valdgeima return from the apartment’s bathroom with her hands behind her back, he became convinced she had a weapon.

He told the doctor that his thoughts were: “it’s either me or she”.

Then he took out the knife and stabbed her.

He said as he did this he saw the face of a person he knew from Chechnya speaking a proverb translated as: “If you put the knife out, you must cut.”

“These thoughts were in my head, and I thought it was coming from above,” he said in interview.

“Although becoming mentally unwell, [Mr Leitons] was able to act normal enough for the victim to meet up with him,” Dr Smith told the trial.

"Although Mr Leiton was mentally disordered I am not satisfied that his condition is impaired to such a degree to meet the criteria for not guilty by reason of insanity," Dr Smith said.

He told the court it happened during an "acute psychotic lapse of paranoid schizophrenia most likely precipitated by his non-adherence with prescribed antipsychotic medication up to three weeks prior".

Dr Ronan Mullaney of the Central Mental Hospital said Mr Leitons was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for several years prior to and at the time of the offence and met the three criteria for a defence of not guilty by reason of insanity under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006.

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