18 Aug 2022

Homeless woman who slit civil servant's throat loses appeal against conviction and 10-year jail sentence

Homeless woman who slit civil servant's throat loses appeal against conviction and 10-year jail sentence

A homeless woman who slit a civil servant’s throat as she walked home from work in Dublin in an unprovoked attack has failed in her attempt to overturn her conviction for attempted murder.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal by Laura Kenna (37), against her convictions for the attempted murder and assault causing harm of Fionnuala Bourke on the Lower Drumcondra Road in Dublin on January 3, 2017.

The court also threw out a separate appeal by Kenna against the severity of the sentence imposed on her by the Central Criminal Court in April 2019 following a jury trial.

The ruling means Kenna, of no fixed abode, must serve the 10-year jail sentence handed by the Central Criminal Court after Ms Justice Tara Burns imposed a 15-year prison term but suspended the final five years.

Kenna, who was subsequently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for her attack on the Department of Social Protection civil servant.

Ms Bourke was repeatedly stabbed and had her throat cut by Kenna who demanded her victim’s handbag before fleeing to a nearby train station where she took a train to Maynooth.

During an interview with gardaí following her arrest, after she presented herself at Tallaght Garda station the day after the assault, Kenna claimed she had killed Ms Bourke and “sliced her like you would a goat”.

Kenna later claimed she had wanted to kill someone and had intended eating her victim.

Counsel for Kenna, Barry White SC, had claimed the convictions were unsafe on the basis the evidence given by the prosecution’s main expert witness, Professor Harry Kennedy, the executive clinical director of the Central Mental Hospital, that she was not legally insane at the time of the incident was fundamentally flawed, inadequate and contradicted by other evidence.

Prof Kennedy’s evidence clashed with the testimony of the defence’s expert witness, Dr Stephen Monks, a psychiatrist, who concluded that Kenna was suffering from a mental disorder at the time.

Mr White claimed Prof Kennedy’s evidence was partial, inaccurate and lacked a thorough assessment of the relevant evidential material.

The Court of Appeal heard that Kenna had been found not guilty by reason of insanity for a separate assault which had occurred two weeks before the attack on Ms Bourke when she tried to stab a woman in the eye with a pen at a Luas stop.

Both Prof Kennedy and Dr Monks had agreed on her condition at the time of that incident.

The president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding, with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the jury had faced an unenviable task given the conflicting opinions of two eminent consultant psychiatrists.

“While undoubtedly there was material which might have resulted in the jury returning a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, equally there was material supported by credible expert testimony which provided a basis for returning a verdict of guilty,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Dismissing Kenna’s appeal against conviction, the judge said it was not for the Court of Appeal to second-guess the decision reached by the jury.

On the severity of Kenna’s sentence, Mr White had argued that a greater discount from the headline sentence of 17 years should have been allowed given her significant mental health problems.

Mr White also argued that there was a high risk that Kenna would be required to serve the suspended element of her sentence given her history of homelessness and drug addiction.

However, the Court of Appeal said the sentencing judge had adopted an entirely proper approach for an offence of the utmost gravity involving the attempted murder of a complete stranger.

Rejecting the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said Mr Justice Burns had made no error in principle as the headline sentence could not have been less than 17 years and could even have been higher.

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