October 29, 2018 16:09:35
Accused Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas has been found fit to stand trial despite suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and delusions.
A jury deliberated for just a few hours before returning the verdict, which means Mr Gargasoulas will go on trial next Wednesday, accused of murdering pedestrians by running them down in Melbourne’s CBD in January, 2017.
He has pleaded not guilty to six counts of murder and 28 counts of attempted murder.
Two psychiatrists and a psychologist gave evidence at a week-long Supreme Court hearing to determine Mr Gargasoulas’ current mental state and his fitness to stand trial.
The experts were split in their opinions on whether Mr Gargasoulas met the criteria to be fit to stand trial, but all agreed he was not faking his mental illness and he believed he was the messiah.
Forensic psychiatrists Andrew Carroll and Lester Walton argued Mr Gargasoulas could not enter a plea, give instructions to his lawyers or understand the substantial effect of the evidence.
Michael Daffern, a psychologist engaged by the prosecution, assessed him as fit.
In closing the prosecution’s case, Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC told the jury that a phone call Mr Gargasoulas made from prison to a welfare worker about his children illustrated he could think sensibly and make decisions.
“[Mr Gargasoulas] initiated that call, he engaged in a very sensible discussion … he took advice from the worker about how best to engage with his children,” she said.
“It was a call where his delusions did not manifest themselves at all.
“This phone call demonstrates that … the delusions, persistent as they are, do not intrude to such a degree to prevent [Mr Gargasoulas] from acting in a sensible and proper way.”
The court heard Mr Gargasoulas’ delusions included that he is the messiah and must be recognised as royalty in order to save the world from a comet.
He had discussed using the court process as a platform for espousing his beliefs so he would be recognised as the messiah, the court heard.
But Ms Judd said that if the delusions were dominating his thinking, he would have spoken out during the hearing, instead of remaining silent.
Delusions can’t be ‘put aside’: defence
The fitness hearing was called after Mr Gargasoulas’ defence lawyers raised concerns he was unfit to stand trial.
Defence barrister Theo Alexander told the jury Mr Gargasoulas did not accept he had a mental illness and could not make sensible decisions because his reality was based on delusions.
“I don’t doubt there are matters that can be selected to say, ‘Look, he knows what he’s talking about’, but that’s in the context of a man who is undeniably schizophrenic,” Dr Alexander said.
“[The delusions] don’t stop, they don’t get put aside.”
The court heard that Mr Gargasoulas has been treated for schizophrenia since being taken into custody in January last year, but that his illness was resistant to the six medications he had been prescribed.
Dr Alexander said Mr Gargasoulas’ instructions to his lawyers were based on his delusional beliefs.
“When asked if there’s anything you wish for us to put to the court, his answer is ‘Yes, I am the messiah’,” he said.
“That really sums up the impossibility, we say, of the satisfaction of this criteria.”
Under Victorian law, there is a presumption an accused person is fit to stand trial unless, due to mental impairment, they meet any of the following seven criteria:
- Unable to understand the nature of the charge
- Unable to enter a plea
- Unable to exercise their right to challenge jurors
- Unable to understand the nature of the trial
- Unable to follow the course of the trial
- Unable to give instructions to their legal practitioner
- Unable to understand the substantial effect of evidence given against them
October 29, 2018 15:37:08