13 Aug 2022

Man accused of decapitating his mother at her home deemed fit to stand trial by judge

Man accused of decapitating his mother at her home deemed fit to stand trial by judge

A 33-year-old man accused of decapitating his mother at her Louth home has been deemed fit to stand trial by a judge at the Central Criminal Court. 

Mr Justice Michael White said on Friday that he was satisfied that the Polish man could find his way around navigating a plea, follow the evidence and make a proper defence after two consultant psychiatrists had disagreed on whether the defendant was fit to stand trial. 

Referring to the defendant, the judge said he was "highly sceptical" that he had planned his mother's death two years in advance or was "faking a psychiatric illness". 

Tomasz Krzysztof Piotrowski, originally from Poland but with an address at Cherrybrook, Ardee, Co Louth, is charged with murdering his mother Elzbieta Piotrowska (57) on January 8, 2019 at her home in Clonmore, Ardee. 

Ms Piotrowska's decapitated body was found in her home that morning. She had suffered a significant number of stab wounds and an axe and stanley knives were found close to her body.

Mr Piotrowski, of Cherrybrook, Ardee was arrested on the same day and was subsequently deemed unfit to be tried having been assessed by psychiatrists at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) in Dundrum, Dublin.

Last December, Dominic McGinn SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions told Mr Justice White that Dr Mary Davoren had decided that Mr Piotrowski was now fit to stand trial. He said this came about following a consultation in November during which Mr Piotrowski accepted that he had lied to psychiatrists in order to get a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a lesser sentence. 

In her evidence, Dr Davoren said she was satisfied that the accused was able to describe the various plea options available to him and had a good understanding of them. The doctor said Mr Piotrowski had told her that he had considered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity but said he did not want to spend a long time in the CMH and was instead considering a plea of diminished responsibility. In her view, Dr Davoren said this was a careful approach taken by the accused and demonstrated that he had not chosen a plea impulsively. Furthermore, the witness said that the accused had maintained good concentration and attention during their three interviews with no sign of any thought disorder. In her opinion, she said the accused met the criteria for fitness to stand trial. 

However, consultant psychiatrist at the CMH Dr Conor O'Neill disagreed. He told counsel for Mr Piotrowski, Roisin Lacey SC, that he believed Mr Piotrowski was still suffering from delusional beliefs, that his symptoms are most likely the result of paranoid schizophrenia and that he was not fit to plead at his trial. He said the accused had an extensive history of multiple substance misuse, particularly cannabis and cocaine, and had tested positive when he was admitted to Cloverhill Prison in January 2019.

Dr O'Neill said the accused man continued to hold a range of delusional beliefs including that the deceased is not his real mother but a witch who used black magic to harm him. He addressed a suggestion that the psychotic symptoms could have been the result of drug use by saying that the symptoms persisted when Mr Piotrowski was treated for lengthy periods in different hospitals, including the CMH, where he did not have access to illegal drugs.

In cross-examination, Dr O'Neill agreed with Mr McGinn that the accused recognised that a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity would not be in his interest as it would delay his return to Poland, which the accused was anxious to avoid. 

The doctor said he assessed Mr Piotrowski in September last year as being unfit to plead and having seen him several times since then and having viewed reports by other psychiatrists, his opinion had not changed. He said that while Mr Piotrowski had recently denied being mentally unwell he continued to describe beliefs that are delusional. In his opinion, Dr O'Neill said the accused was actively psychotic, did not have the capacity to instruct counsel and was not fit to be tried. 

Delivering judgment on Friday, Mr Justice White said this was a "complex" case and an issue had arisen concerning the accused's fitness to be tried under the Criminal Law Insanity Act 2006. There was a "strong prima facie case" that Mr Piotrowski had caused the death of his mother, said the judge, stressing that the court was "highly sceptical" that the defendant had been planning her death two years in advance or was "faking a psychiatric illness". Undoubtedly, the accused's mental health had improved and stabilised during his stay in the CMH but he had never resiled from his delusional beliefs about his mother even in his improved and stabilised state, said the judge.

Mr Justice White said that the man's consistent diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia seemed "very sound" to the court but this was ultimately a matter for the jury. He said that while it may be difficult he was satisfied that the accused could find his way around navigating a plea, follow the evidence and make a proper defence. "This can be kept under review by the trial judge and can be revisited if necessary," he added.  

The defendant was remanded in custody to March 11, when his case is listed for mention. 

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