A man who became convinced that a woman he was having an affair with was an undercover intelligence agent sent to poison him was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he stabbed her to death, a psychiatrist told his murder trial on Wednesday.
Dr Ronan Mullaney of the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) said Valerijs Leitons was suffering from an acute psychotic disorder at the time of the offence and qualified for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
The consultant forensic psychiatrist disagreed with his colleague, Dr Damian Smith who last week told the trial that the accused was suffering with a mental disorder but was not impaired enough to meet the criteria for a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict.
Dr Smith, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the CMH, previously told prosecution counsel Conor Devally SC that the accused had shown symptoms of a psychotic disorder as far back as February 2018 and may have stopped taking his medication as early as February 2019.
"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.
The expert witness said 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".
Mr Leitons (25), a Latvian national but with an address at St Kevin’s Gardens, Dartry, is charged with murdering Skaidrite Valdgeima (34) on June 26th, 2019 at the Binary Hub aparthotel on Bonham Street, Dublin 8. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Evidence has been given that Mr Leitons and Ms Valdgeima, a married woman, 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 over the following weeks.
The trial has heard that the accused told gardaí that they were "playing a sexual game" when he was arrested on suspicion of the crime.
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, told the jury that the deceased had "defence-type injuries on both arms", which he suggested likely happened when she tried to grab the knife or tried to block it.
Dr Mullaney told defence counsel Michael Bowman SC on Wednesday that he had interviewed the accused man and reviewed his patient history and the book of evidence. He noted the accused had a psychiatric history prior to the alleged offence, which dated back to 2018 when he attended the emergency department of a hospital on eight occasions complaining of racing thoughts, anxiety and hyper-ventilation.
The witness said Mr Leitons had presented in 2018 with possible acute psychosis, which would have benefited from longer term assessment and was prescribed Olanzapine.
He was admitted to St James's Hospital in April 2018 and discharged in June of that year. Doctors noted that he was presenting with unusual or abnormal personality traits and was possibly suffering from schizophrenia.
In July 2019, Mr Leitons was reviewed by consultant Dr Conor O'Neill, who got a clinical impression that the accused had a psychotic illness. Mr Leitons told doctors that he had experienced delusions about people being spies and was convinced that Ms Valdgeima was "an agent".
He was transferred to the CMH on July 26th, 2019 and when interviewed, he described a sensation of his heart "bursting out of his chest", his legs not being his own and a belief that the deceased may not have died.
The witness noted that Mr Leitons told doctors that Ms Valdgeima may have recruited him as an agent for the FBI or was going to kill him.
On the night of the alleged murder, Mr Leitons said his partner offered him a Tic-Tac but he did not take one as he thought she was going to poison him, and from this time on he became convinced she was a foreign intelligence agent who was sent to poison and kill him.
The defendant told doctors that when he saw Ms Valdgeima return from the apartment’s bathroom that night with her hands behind her back "in an unusual fashion", he became convinced she was holding a weapon and had an intense fear she would kill him if given the opportunity, so he stabbed her several times with a knife. "It was me or she," said the accused.
In 2020, Mr Leitons expressed persecutory beliefs to doctors that the FBI had injected a microchip into his brain to hear his thoughts, said the doctor.
The witness said that the accused told him that he came off his medication in 2019 as he had lost trust in doctors and had a great trust in the words of his friends.
After the accused became convinced that Ms Valdgeima was an FBI agent and had been ordered to kill him, he started to carry a knife. He also became convinced that intelligence agencies who were surveying him were responsible for causing intense pressure in his head, said the witness.
Dr Mullaney said Mr Leitons was suffering from schizophrenia for several years prior to and at the time of the offence and therefore met the criteria for a defence of not guilty by reason of insanity under the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act.
The witness said the accused has a mental disorder, specifically paranoid schizophrenia and was suffering from acute psychosis at the time.
To meet the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury must find that Mr Leitons was suffering from a mental disorder such that he should not be held responsible for the killing because he did not know the nature and quality of his actions, or he did not know what he was doing was morally wrong, or was unable to refrain from committing the act. The doctor said the accused “ticks all three criteria”.
In conclusion, Dr Mullaney said the accused's mental disorder was so apparent, comprehensive and overwhelming that he was not required to consider the partial defence of diminished responsibility having made the finding that Mr Leitons had a more significant mental disorder.
In his opening address, Mr Devally told the jury that the prosecution accepted Mr Leitons was suffering a mental disorder – but that doctors differed as to its extent. He said the question they would have to decide in the case was whether the accused's disorder was enough to satisfy the insanity plea, or whether Mr Leitons could be found guilty of manslaughter, but with diminished responsibility.
Mr Justice Paul Burns told the jury of seven men and five women that they will hear closing speeches from counsel on Thursday.