Thursday, 20 March 2008

'Possessed' refugee not guilty of murder

A Sudanese refugee who believed he was possessed by his dead uncle's spirit when he killed his wife has been found not guilty of her murder on the grounds of mental illness.

The 43-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has admitted bludgeoning his 40-year-old wife to death as she lay sleeping on the floor of their Newcastle home in July 2006.

The NSW Supreme Court was told he struck her so hard with a plumbing pipe and a hammer that he split her head open, exposing her brain.

Their infant daughter, who lay sleeping in her mother's arms, was spattered with her blood.

The man fled Newcastle after the killing but then handed himself in to police in Central Western NSW.

He said a dream voice told him to kill his wife because she was planning to kill him.

"The dream is telling me that this woman, if you leave her, she will kill you, you better kill her," he told police.

Justice Graham Barr today found the man not guilty of the murder, ruling he was suffering from schizophrenic delusions at the time.

The man and his family came to Australia as refugees from war-torn Sudan in October 2004.

Justice Barr said that, prior to their migration, the man's uncle was murdered.

The man's father knew who was responsible and collected a monetary reward for informing the police.

Instead of giving the money to the dead man's child, Justice Barr said the man's father kept it for himself.

"A witch doctor told the accused that his uncle's spirit was inside him because of his father's wrongful action," Justice Barr told the court.

"He was afraid because he believed his uncle could kill him or send someone to kill him via the voice."

Two treating psychiatrists concluded the man had been suffering chronic paranoid schizophrenia for 20 years, and that he had killed his wife while in a delusional state.

One psychiatrist noted the man's symptoms worsened markedly upon arrival in Australia, noting the "higher rate of psychotic illness that has been observed among ... refugees and the stress of migration, which is thought to be a factor that triggers acute mental illness in some people".

Justice Barr acquitted the man of his wife's murder but ordered that he be detained in the psychiatric unit of Long Bay Prison Hospital until his case was reviewed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal.

The tribunal will determine if and when he was fit to be released into the community, as well as other matters related to his treatment.

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