A teenager stabbed his mother to death during a psychotic episode in which he believed killing her would save her soul, a court has heard.
Zak O’Neill, now 21, attacked Michelle O’Neill with a knife at their family home in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on March 15 last year.
Bristol Crown Court heard that 47-year-old Ms O’Neill was a devoted mother-of-two who had a loving relationship with her son, who was 19 at the time, and there was no conflict or animosity between them.
His mental health deteriorated in the months leading up to her death, with O’Neill first ringing the police and then a mental health crisis team the day before.
He told police he was concerned about his mental state, adding to the mental health crisis team that he feared he was “dangerous”, but denying he would harm himself or others.
He later told a psychiatrist, who diagnosed schizophrenia, that he believed killing his mother and himself would save their souls.
The court heard that O’Neill stabbed his mother, causing 92 injuries, on the morning of March 15 before driving to a pub – leaving his grandmother to discover the body.
She must have died in physical agony and mental torment
Judge William Hart imposed a hospital order on O’Neill, who admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, during a hearing on Wednesday.
He described Ms O’Neill as “a much-loved and lamented lady whose life was cut short in the most brutal and horrific manner by her beloved son”.
“There were almost 100 wounds,” the judge said. “She must have died in physical agony and mental torment.”
Two eminent psychologists agreed that O’Neill was psychotic at the time, with no other motivations to explain why he killed his mother.
“You had a loving, positive relationship with your mother,” the judge told O’Neill, who had no previous convictions.
“There is a lack of any conceivable reason for this killing, aside from your illness.
“You became aware of how unwell you were becoming and made attempts to alert the authorities to your concern, the police and the mental health crisis team.
You were were extremely ill at the time of this offence and remain so. You were not insane. You are undoubtedly, if untreated, a dangerous offender
“You were were extremely ill at the time of this offence and remain so. You were not insane. You are undoubtedly, if untreated, a dangerous offender.”
After sentencing O’Neill, the judge told him: “What the future holds for you is impossible to know.
“You have some insight, you have expressed remorse. That must be an enormous burden. It is one that will be with you for the rest of your life.”
William Hunter, prosecuting, said O’Neill phoned the police due to concerns about his mental state on March 14 and was advised to contact the mental health crisis team, which he did.
“He was worried he was dangerous, he said he didn’t have thoughts about hurting anyone, he said he hadn’t slept well,” Mr Hunter said.
The following morning, O’Neill’s grandmother, Christine Kerr, arrived at the family home and took the dog for a walk at 7.50am.
She returned at 9.10am to find her daughter dead in the lounge, having suffered multiple injuries to her face, neck and head.
O’Neill called police at 10.22am, saying he had killed someone and had attempted to take his own life. He was later arrested at a pub in Birdlip, Gloucestershire.
While in custody, O’Neill told police: “I picked up a knife and started stabbing because I wanted to be with my Mum in heaven because I love her.”
He later told forensic psychologist Dr John Sandford he believed he was on a “spiritual quest” and needed to kill his mother to save their souls.
This is a tragic, miserable case. There was no background of hostility, conflict or animosity. Unbeknown to the world, he was becoming seriously mentally unwell ... He killed his mother because he was trying to save her soul and his own soul
Andrew Langdon KC, representing O’Neill, said: “This is a tragic, miserable case. There was no background of hostility, conflict or animosity.
“Unbeknown to the world, he was becoming seriously mentally unwell. He had made phone calls the day before the incident.
“It is no-one’s fault but neither the police nor the crisis team recognised this as the problem that it made out to be.
“He killed his mother because he was trying to save her soul and his own soul.”
In a statement issued after the case, Ms O’Neill’s family described her as a “much-loved mother, daughter and sister”.
“She was devoted to her son with whom she had a loving relationship, which makes this tragedy so shocking and difficult to come to terms with,” they said.
“Michelle is much missed and will be forever in our hearts.”
Detective Inspector Adam Stacey, of Gloucestershire Police, described the case as “heartbreaking for everyone involved”.
“From our investigation and subsequent psychiatric reports, it’s shown that this awful act didn’t come from a place of hate, but instead Zak O’Neill thought his actions would have a different outcome,” he said.
“Zak O’Neill will now be detained in a secure psychiatric hospital so that he can continue to receive the appropriate support.”
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