Killer demonstrated 'no sense, no logic'

Nov 14, 2007 11:06 AM


KITCHENER - Rohan Hunigan was obviously out of touch with reality when he slit his pregnant girlfriend's throat with a kitchen knife, his lawyer argued yesterday.

Two psychiatrists have testified in Superior Court in Kitchener that Hunigan shouldn't be held criminally responsible for the death of Vanessa Sismar, 24, because he suffered from schizophrenia.

But in his closing submissions, defence lawyer Steve Gehl said expert opinions aren't even necessary to see that Hunigan, 38, was "disconnected" from events as they unfolded at a Kitchener apartment on June 24, 2005.

He cited evidence from an eyewitness -- a friend of Sismar's named Nordia Gentles -- that Hunigan didn't seem to be angry when he attacked his girlfriend after overhearing an innocent conversation about giving an elderly woman a fish.

Hunigan seized on the fish story while ranting to Gentles that Sismar was evil and wicked to him.

"They are not a response to anything," Gehl said of the comments. "They demonstrate no sense, no logic. They are totally disconnected from everything."

Hunigan has admitted killing Sismar -- then about six months pregnant -- while she was making dinner for her six-year-old son from a previous relationship.

He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, however, on the grounds he wasn't criminally responsible for the brutal killing due to mental illness.

The onus is on the defence to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that Hunigan didn't appreciate his actions or know they were wrong.

Crown prosecutor Theresa Donnelly has suggested Hunigan was an angry, jealous man who blamed Sismar for his impending deportation and knew what he was doing despite his schizophrenia.

It is possible to have a major mental illness and still be criminally responsible based on state of mind at the time a crime is committed.

Hunigan was on probation for beating up Sismar about a year earlier and had recently been ordered deported to his native Jamaica for assaulting a previous spouse.

Sismar repeatedly reconciled with Hunigan, but had tried to break off their tumultuous relationship the day before she died.

There has also been evidence Hunigan wasn't taking medication he was prescribed for depression and psychosis.

Gehl argued it made no sense for Hunigan to kill his pregnant girlfriend since she represented his best hope of appealing his deportation order.

He also stressed reports from co-workers, doctors, friends, Sismar and others that Hunigan heard voices, said he could read minds and obsessed over an imagined conspiracy against him.

In a letter Sismar wrote soon after Hunigan beat her up in 2004, for instance, she detailed bizarre behaviour including accusations she was using witchcraft to poison him.

"I don't know anything about witchcraft," she wrote.

"I don't even know why he would think I do."

Gehl said Hunigan's actions immediately after the killing also revealed a mentally ill man.

After slitting Sismar's throat in front of Gentles, Hunigan calmly followed her outside the Victoria Street South building, called 911 to report she was dying, laid down beside her after she collapsed and rubbed her back.

Hunigan then got up and smoked a cigarette on the steps while waiting for the police. When they arrived, he told them he didn't know what had happened.

The hearing was scheduled to continue today with final arguments by prosecutors.