Trevor Raymond Shirkey was found not guilty, on account of insanity, of the murder of Jennifer Henson in Carterton.
Wairarapa man Trevor Raymond Shirkey has been found not guilty of the murder of a Carterton woman, on account of insanity.
Jennifer Anne Henson, 76, a retired nurse, was known as “Rev Jenny”, and was a much-loved assistant priest to the St Mark’s Anglican Church in Carterton.
Shirkey, 48, had been driving erratically in the town at about midday on June 19, 2020, as he headed north.
At the High Court in Wellington on Friday Detective Rosanne Rix, of the police serious crash investigation team, said he accelerated to more than 110kmh overtaking several vehicles on High St South, not braking or trying to avoid oncoming traffic.
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Henson’s car was stopped waiting to turn right into Pembroke St when Shirkey drove head-on into her car, Rix said.
He made no attempt to brake and no mechanical fault was found with his car later.
The impact of the collision pushed Henson’s car back 50 metres to 60m, imprinting the registration plate from his car onto hers.
Henson died at the scene.
Rix said witnesses spoke of Shirkey behaving strangely at the crash scene. He was saying “Hide me”, and chanting.
It emerged Shirkey’s family had been worried about him on the day of the crash and the day before it happened. They rang emergency services saying they were scared, and that he had “switched”.
Shirkey was charged with manslaughter, later upgraded to murder, and indicated he would plead not guilty on the grounds of insanity. His trial was due to have started on Monday.
After hearing from psychiatrists on Friday Justice Rebecca Ellis said the Crown agreed that was the only reasonable verdict.
She made a finding of not guilty on account of insanity, based on having bipolar affective disorder which rendered him incapable of knowing his actions were morally wrong. Her reasons would be issued later.
In August another hearing is due to decide what happens to Shirkey. He was remanded to a secure psychiatric hospital in the meantime.
His name was suppressed until the end of Friday’s hearing.
Three psychiatrists had favoured the diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder but a fourth preferred substance abuse manic psychosis.
The court heard Shirkey had first tried cannabis at age nine, and had used it steadily from adolescence.
He was first recorded as having a psychotic episode at age 42. The court was told he had three episodes and had driven erratically during each.
One psychiatrist, Dr Justin Barry-Walsh, said there had been charges laid as a result of a driving incident at a petrol station. Shirkey would have had a defence of insanity then too, and the charges had been withdrawn.
He suspected cannabis use was significant in Shirkey’s illness but other factors would have been involved.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Graham Mellsop, thought it very unlikely cannabis had triggered an episode given the many years Shirkey had used cannabis but not become ill until his early 40s.