Woman appeals conviction for attempting to murder civil servant walking home from work

Brian Kavanagh

Reporter:

Brian Kavanagh

Woman who slit civil servant's throat as she walked home in Dublin appeals attempted murder conviction

Woman who slit civil servant's throat as she walked home in Dublin appeals attempted murder conviction

A 37-year-old woman who slit a civil servant's throat as she walked home from work in Dublin has appealed her conviction for attempted murder. 

Laura Kenna of no fixed abode, who was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity when she went on trial at the Central Criminal Court last year.

She has also appealed the 10-year jail term she was given, after a jury found her guilty.

The trial heard that Fionnuala Bourke was attacked on Lower Drumcondra Road in the city, as she walked home from work on January 3, 2017.

Ms Bourke, who worked for the Department of Social Protection, noticed a woman sitting on a wall outside a house. As she approached, the woman, Laura Kenna, sprang up and pushed her back onto a grassy area. Kenna didn’t say anything, but started to stab her.

Ms Bourke felt short stabs and could also feel her face being slashed, before she felt a dramatic slash straight across her neck. Kenna then spoke, telling Bourke that she’d let her go if she handed over her handbag.

Ms Bourke required surgery and recovered in an intensive care unit after the attack.

Kenna later admitted to gardaí: “I sliced her like you would a goat.”

Justice Tara Burns described the attack as vicious, random, horrifying and frightening. “She is very lucky that she is still with us and doesn’t have more significant injuries,” she said of Ms Bourke.

The judge said that it was clear that Kenna was suffering from a significant mental health condition at the time, which might have gone untreated for up to six years.

Justice Burns said that the jury’s verdict did not mean that Kenna wasn’t suffering from a mental illness at the time. She said that a person may well be suffering from a significant mental illness but still know the nature of their actions, know that their actions are wrong and be able to refrain from them.

The judge imposed a 15-year term of imprisonment on Kenna and suspended the last five years.

Kenna's barrister, Barry White SC, today (Thursday) appealed both conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal.

Counsel said that he was asking the court to exercise an exceptional jurisdiction and rule the conviction unsafe. He said that the chief evidence against his client, that of consultant psychiatrist Professor Harry Kennedy, was fundamentally flawed and inadequate.

He reminded the court that Prof Kennedy had given contrasting evidence to the psychiatrist called by the defence, Dr Stephen Monks. Both psychiatrists were attached to the Central Mental Hospital.

Dr Monks had said that Kenna was acting in response to delusional beliefs at the time, and qualified for the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. During the trial, Prof Kennedy testified that Kenna was not delusional at the time, but had carried out the attack in anger and out of a ‘sense of entitlement’; she told gardai she’d needed money.

Court President Justice George Birmingham asked if it was not then a matter for the jury, having heard from both of them.

Mr White agreed that it was but noted that, when it came to sentence, there was one additional report before the court. This was from her treating psychiatrist, who concluded that Kenna had been acutely psychotic at the time of the assault.

“This conviction is unsafe,” he said.

Mr White also submitted that the sentence handed down was excessive and should be reduced.

“It seems to me that Ms Kenna is someone more to be pitied than punished,” he remarked. “That’s a personal view.”

Anthony Sammon SC responded on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

“This was a case of conflicting psychiatric opinion,” he said. “The Oireachtas has given to the citizenry the power to make a decision in this area. It is expressly given to juries, not to judges.”

He said that Mr White had not ‘jumped’ the very high bar necessary to set aside the jury’s verdict for reasons of perversity.

Mr Sammon added that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with the way the sentence had been formulated.

Justice Birmingham, presiding with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Isobel Kennedy, reserved judgment in the case.