The man accused of murdering Jasmine McMonagle told a psychiatrist he bought the mother-of-two a car for Christmas but later set fire to it after she would not agree to a reconciliation, a jury has heard.
Richard Burke told Dr Anthony Kearns, a now retired forensic psychiatrist who formerly worked at the Central Mental Hospital, that he had never held down a job and had experienced a period of homelessness after he dropped out of college when he became addicted to cannabis and head shop drugs.
The trial also heard Mr Burke held a number of persistent delusional beliefs that Ms McMonagle had been unfaithful and had given drugs to her children. The court heard these beliefs were completely false and had no basis in reality.
The Central Criminal Court, sitting in Monaghan, today (WEDNESDAY) heard evidence from two psychiatrists who both agree that Mr Burke was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the killing which substantially diminished his responsibility.
Consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital, Dr Dearbhla Duffy, said it was her view that Mr Burke was “acutely psychotic” at the time of the alleged offences and for a short period afterwards.
She said descriptions of his presentation when he had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital a year prior to the killing “echoed aspects of his presentation in January 2019”.
Mr Burke (32), of Killygordon, County Donegal, has pleaded not (NOT) guilty to the murder of Ms McMonagle at Forest Park, Killygordon on January 4, 2019 but guilty (GUILTY) to her manslaughter.
Dr Kearns told defence counsel Michael Bowman SC he interviewed Richard Burke on four occasions between May and July 2020.
The psychiatrist said Mr Burke told him his father was a truck driver and his mother worked as a psychiatric nurse.
The accused was born in North London and moved back to Ireland when he was 8, living with his grandparents initially until his family joined him in September the following year.
Dr Kearns said Mr Burke told him he attended Letterkenny IT after finishing school but dropped out after a short time because he developed a drug habit and everything “went apart”. He began smoking cannabis at the age of 16 and continued to do so from then on.
The accused said after his exams he started experimenting with drugs from a head shop which he called “pretend cocaine” and “pretend ecstasy”.
He told the psychiatrist he left college after drugs “properly took hold” of him and he left his Mum and Dad’s house and was homeless for a period of time.
Mr Burke said he got into trouble with the law, robbing the local head shop. He told Dr Kearns he did this because he was not working and had no money. He was arrested and prosecuted.
The psychiatrist said Mr Burke told him he had never managed to hold down a job and the doctor took this to mean subsequent to part time jobs he had told the doctor about working at variously such as a chimney sweep, a cobbler and as a waiter in a local hotel.
Mr Burke told the doctor he first encountered Ms McMonagle on an internet forum. He said they lost contact for about a year before connecting through Facebook. They arranged to meet and he went to her house. At the time he was homeless and out of work, Dr Kearns said.
He said he fell in love “when she opened to door” and “it got serious quickly”. She already had a child from a previous relationship and they decided to try for a baby.
In December 2016 Ms McMonagle became pregnant, however Mr Burke told the psychiatrist that later the same month she told him that she did not want him around saying he was “disrupting the household”.
He told the psychiatrist he bought a used car for Ms McMonagle, a Nissan Micra, and said he wanted to teach her to drive. Mr Burke said he went to the Ms McMonagle’s house every day to “try to bring her round” but this was without success and they did not reconcile.
Mr Burke said he woke up one day “absolutely fuming” and bought a substantial amount of cannabis and cans of alcohol. He said he “jumped behind the wheel” of the car and ended up crashing it and setting fire to it.
He told doctor Kearns he ended up in a garda car “with bracelets on”. He was meant to be in court that day, he said, but because of the drinking and the cannabis use he “lost track of it”.
Dr Kearns said Mr Burke told him that because he came from a small town “everyone knew his business” and he was known as the only homeless man in Donegal town.
Mr Burke said he still persisted with his efforts to reunite with Ms McMonagle. The date of birth for the child they were expecting passed and he heard nothing, he told the psychiatrist.
He then began drinking and smoking cannabis and said he was drinking heavily by September 2017.
Mr Burke said contact with Ms McMonagle was re-established at the end of September 2017, he began calling round and things were going well for a while, but then “cracks began to show”.
Dr Kearns said Mr Burke harboured a persistent belief that his partner had been unfaithful and was giving drugs to the children. He agreed with Mr Bowman that these beliefs were false and had no foundation in reality. He agreed they were delusions of Mr Burke’s own mind.
The court heard in early January 2018, Ms McMonagle contacted gardaí because she was worried about Mr Burke’s behaviour.
The psychiarist said Mr Burke told him he agreed to go to a psychiatric hospital and be admitted voluntarily “just to check that he was not going mad” but he [the accused] did not believe he was.
In his account of what happened on January 4, 2019, Mr Burke told Dr Kearns he and Ms McMonagle had been fighting and he began punching her and put the rope around her neck.
Mr Burke said the next thing he knew was she was on the floor and the gardaí arrived. He said he did remember much after that. The accused said he never woke up that day intending to kill her.
The jury heard Mr Burke told the psychiatrist that he had taken a large number of Lyrica tablets. Dr Kearns told the court Lyrica is a prescribed drug which is commonly used for anxiety and mood problems. Mr Burke said he had been taking it for two or three days before the event and had also been drinking vodka on the night.
Dr Kearns said in the course of compiling his report he also spoke to Mr Burke’s mother, Ann-Marie Burke in July 2020. She told the psychiatrist she felt she had lost her son when he started using drugs. She told him: “The head shop destroyed my son”.
Ms Burke said she did not meet Ms McMonagle until January 3, 2018 when she heard her son had been brought to hospital. Ms Burke told Dr Kearns she had a very good relationship with Ms McMonagle.
She said following the killing and Mr Burke’s arrest, she visited her son in prison and he was still preoccupied with the idea that Ms McMonagle had given the children drugs. Ms Burke told the doctor this was complete nonsense and the kids were perfect.
Mr Bowman put it to the psychiatrist that it was clear Ms Burke’s son had delusional beliefs in terms of Ms McMonagle and that there was no truth to how he was describing her treatment of the children or any suggestion of her infidelity. Dr Kearns agreed that this was the case and said Ms Burke was very clear on that topic.
Dr Kearns told the court that during his psychiatric admission in January 2018, Mr Burke reported auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions. He received a diagnosis of a psychotic illness.
Outlining his conclusions, Dr Kearns said it was his view that Mr Burke was suffering from a mental disorder that substantially diminished his responsibility for the killing of Ms McMonagle on January 4, 2019.
The psychiatrist said this mental disorder was complicated by the accused’s use of drugs over many years.
Dr Duffy told Anne-Marie Lawlor, prosecuting, that she conducted seven interviews with the accused between December 2021 and January 2023.
She agreed with Ms Lawlor that much of her evidence overlapped with the evidence given by Dr Kearns.
Dr Duffy said that Mr Burke had a history of self-harm and had told her he had attempted to take his own life when he was 19-years-old and also outlined instances when he had self harmed by cutting his arms and again attempted to take his own life with an overdose of tablets.
She also noted a psychiatrist who had assessed Mr Burke in 2011 had identified the accused has having some traits of avoidant personality disorder and said he was someone who would benefit from anger management treatment.
Dr Duffy said Mr Burke had told her that prior to Ms McMonagle’s killing he was trying to kill himself and said he was “tired of the torment he was living”.
The psychiatrist said having assessed all the evidence, it was her view that Mr Burke was genuinely acutely psychotic at the time of the alleged offences and for a short period afterwards.
Dr Duffy said she is satisfied that he was suffering from an acute psychotic episode at the time of the offence and that this substantially diminished his responsibility.
The trial continues today (THURSDAY) before Mr Justice Paul Burns and a jury of seven women and five men.