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INSANITY PLEA, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 185, 7 August 1945
VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY
11 A successful insanity plea was set j up by the defence in the Supreme I Court to-day when the case against Leslie Duff Neih, farmer, aged 42 (Mr. North and Mr. Jacka), charged before Mr. Justice Cornish with the attempted murder of Richard McCready at Parahi, near Ruawai on May 24, was concluded. A statement that evidence of attempted murder was clear, but that a defence was indicated of -accused's irresponsibility through his mental condition ai'ising from a disease from which he suffered, was made by Mr. V. R. Meredith, Crown Prosecutor, in opening the Crown case. Counsel said that Neill was the owner of a farm at Parahi and McCready was a sharemilker, living with his two children and the housekeeper, Mrs. Slater, who had three children, in the farm house, except for two rooms, which were reserved .by Neill. The accused, however, had not lived there latterly. Some differences had arisen between the two men, first over money matters and later over Neill striking a pet lamb. On May 22 Neill sold his property to the Government, and next day saw McCready about the latter getting another house and seeing to the sale of the stock. The evidence would show that in the forenoon of May 24 McCready went into the house and saw Neill in Mrs. Slater's bedroom swinging a wrench. McCready told him he had no business there and took the wrench from him. Neill was pushed out of the room. Neill asked about his furniture and McCready showed this to him, stored in the front room of the eight-roomed house. McCready left Neill in the room and was going down a passage way when he felt a sharp pain in the back. He turned and saw Neill with an open pocket knife about to strike him again. McCready closed with Neill and received several other stabs in the chest, the shoulder, the arm and the thigh.- With the assistance of Mrs. Slater, who was called to help, Neill was overpowered and tied up. Some neighbours were called in, a Mr. Page and a Mrs. Murray, and while they were attending McCready's wounds Neill got free, got hold of a butcher's knife and made another attack on McCready. However, he was overpowered and again tied up.
Circumstances Unusual Two of McCready's wounds, the stab in the back and that in the chest, were very severe, but fortunately no vital organ was injured. The evidence was clear as to attempted murder, said counsel, and in ordinary circumstances the verdict should be "guilty." The circumstances, however, were not usual. It was known without doubt in the district that Neill was a confirmed epileptic, and .that' in fits he did peculiar things. Further, it had been established that persons in a state of epileptic automatism committed acts of savage violence without consciousness of what they were doing. Dr. Buchanan and Dr. Stallworthy, of the Auckland Mental Hospital, had examined and reported on Neill's condition, and their reports had been handed to the counsel for the defence. Dr. Buchanan had also had the advantage of having observed Neill when the latter was attending clinics at the hospital for treatment for his trouble. Evidence on the lines indicated by counsel was given by Richard McCready, Mrs. Joan Elaine Slater and Arthur Victor Page. , "There has been unfolded a graphic and restrained account of what easily might have proved to be a very tragic affair," said Mr. North, in opening the defence. "Fortunately," he added, "the courage and resolution of Mr. McCready, JVlrs. Slater and Mr. Page averted tragedy by a narrow margin." Sometimes, in cases of this sort, said counsel, there were circumI stances which made a tragedy greater than the affair itself, and this was one of those cases. It was the tragedy of a young man dogged throughout his life by a malady which had frustrated him at all stages of his career. The question the jury had to consider was responsibility for the crime, and he felt that when they heard the full evidence there could be little doubt that Neill was not responsible for what occurred. Counsel said the essence of every crime was intent. The law said no one suffering from a disease of the mind to such extent that he did not know the nature or quality of the acts he did, or appreciate the difference belween right and wrong, should be convicted of a crime.
Violent Acts Not Recollected Counsel proceeded to explain different forms of epilepsy, and quoted medical authority concerning one particular form in which the patient became subject to a form of automatism in which he acted like a sleep-walker and did things of which he afterwards had no recollection. Examples .were given of violent acts done in such state, and not recollected later. Three witnesses gave evidence of instances of fits by accused in widely varying circumstances and of his apparent lack of recollection subsequently. Dr. Henry Burrell, specialist in nervous diseases, said he had been attending to accused since. July, 1920. Witness felt sure that accused's actions at the time of the assault were automatic after a fit.
Dr. H. M. Buchanan, in charge of the Auckland Mental Hospital, said he had met Neill at clinics in 1931, and had examined him again on July 30 this year. Witness had no doubt that at the time of the- assault on McCready the accused was in a condition of post-epileptic automatism, and would not know the nature of his acts. No address was made by counsel. His Honor, directing the jury, said the case was a very sad one. It was perfectly clear the accused was a man labouring under an affliction through no fault of his own. He was a man of intelligence and good disposition normally, but from time to time was subject to this visitation, when the results were unpredictable. It was desired to place him where he would have the advantage of regular treatment. He would have his books and interests, and both Crown and other counsel agreed it was a right thing to do. There was no doubt about the facts. The jury might agree that a proper verdict was not guilty on the ground of insanity. . The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of not guilty on the ground of insanity. His Honor made an order that the prisoner ,be kept in strict custody in the Auckland prison until the pleasure of the Minister of Justice is made known.
Miss Rosaleen Hickmott, .of Wellington, has been awarded a scholarship at Trinity College, London.
INSANITY PLEA, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 185, 7 August 1945
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