Stephen Whittaker escaped conviction for murder earlier this week having been found not guilty of the offence by reason of insanity.
Whittaker, who has changed his name to Scipio, stabbed Bronwyn Sadler to death in a frenzied attack in September 2011. He has been remanded to psychiatric care as a special patient.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust, who have been critical of the insanity defence in its current form, have raised the issue in recent months after an Official Information Act request revealed a significant increase in successful acquittals due to insanity.
Trust spokesman, Graeme Moyle, whose brother’s killer was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity, has long championed the need for reform.
“The insanity verdict is an insult to victims and their families” Mr Moyle said, “by acquitting these offenders you re-victimise the family and absolve the offender of any wrong doing. To hear a judge pronounce a killer not guilty only adds to the trauma a family is forced to endure at a very distressing time in their lives. These families have no sense that justice has been served and no one has been held to account for an acknowledged homicide”.
Those acquitted by reason of insanity carry no conviction and are dealt with through the Ministry of Health rather than the Justice or Correctional systems.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust has a proposed alternative which it says will address some of the issues faced by families in these situations.
“A verdict of Proven but Insane is a proposal the Trust is advancing to make a successful insanity defence more palatable to victims”, Mr Moyle says. “We would also envisage some form of judicial acknowledgement in the form of a conviction by anyone found to be Proven but Insane. Families would then at least know someone had been held to account for their grief, a situation which currently does not exist”.
“Many of these offenders are known to mental health services long before they kill yet the office of the Director of Mental Health refuse to record homicides perpetrated by those in their care. They quite openly record suicides by those receiving care from mental health services but stubbornly refuse to acknowledge homicides”.
Mr Moyle says in order to improve its service the Ministry of Health must first acknowledge there is a problem.
“Until the Ministry accepts there is a problem, nothing will change, and these often predictable and preventable and needless deaths will continue”.
In related news, an Auckland man has been remanded to the Mason Clinic for a psychiatric assessment this week following the fatal stabbing of another man in Mt Eden and David Holl was found guilty of murdering his mother in Nelson earlier this year. Holl was described as having a personality disorder.
Numbers of Interest.
560 The percentage increase in insanity acquittals since 2002
33 The number of times daily, Police are called to incidents involving the mentally ill.
10 The number of times daily St John are called to incidents involving the mentally ill.
Sensible Sentencing Trust Mental Health Issues Spokesman
Phone 07 8275121
Mobile 0274 941414