10 Dec 2014

Insane man believed friend a demon

6:53 pm on 10 December 2014

A man who believed he was killing a demon as he stabbed his friend to death has been found not guilty of murder because he was insane at the time.

The High Court at Auckland was today told how Byron Armstrong had been playing on-line video games with a friend in February last year when he heard voices from what he believed to be a higher being.

Mr Armstrong drove to the home of his friend, Henry Pan, with whom he had been playing the game, and once there, broke into the house and stabbed Mr Pan repeatedly in the neck.

The court was told Armstrong had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had a mental health history that went back to 2006.

A psychiatric report commissioned by his lawyer, Ron Mansfield, showed concerns by a mental health expert regarding his medical treatment in the time leading up to the killing.

That report found Mr Armstrong had been given sub-optimal care, that he had been good at concealing his condition and that concerns raised by the family had been ignored.

The court was told Armstrong had been displaying some worrying behaviour which included smashing his crystal collection and his baptism candle because a voice he associated with a higher being told him to. He also killed his tropical fish.

His strange behaviour included approaching members of the Mormon church to ask about the moral implications of killing a demon. However, he could not get answers and he was left to his own devices, all the while with a voice telling him he had to kill his 23 year-old friend.

Voice resisted

Armstrong later told authorities that he had resisted that voice and even considered moving to Australia to avoid the compulsion to do his friend harm.

Justice Lang said on 15 February Armstrong had been playing online computer games with Mr Pan, who he had known since school.

He drove over to Mr Pan's house in Half Moon Bay, where he broke a glass window to get inside.

He wrestled with Mr Pan before repeatedly stabbing him, with one of the thrusts going through his friend's neck. Mr Pan died at the scene.

He left Mr Pan's home and tried to take his own life before crashing his car.

Armstrong later told authorities he felt he had failed in his mission because he had felt bad about the killing.

Justice Lang said Mr Armstrong knew he was stabbing something but he believed it was a demon and not his friend.

He agreed with Crown psychiatrist Professor Graham Melsop, who found Armstrong's thought processes so disordered he could not tell right from wrong on occasions.

Justice Lang found Mr Armstrong believed he was killing a demon, and that his schizophrenia meant he had no ability to tell right from wrong.

He found him not guilty by reason of insanity and remanded him to the Mason Clinic, where he will stay until it is determined he no longer poses a risk to himself or the community.

Questions on care

Outside court Mr Mansfield said the case raised questions about the community care for people with mental illness, around how society balanced the standard of care and costs.

Mr Mansfield said it would be tragic if society could not learn from this case and make sure it did not happen again.

There was a need to treat and care people with mental illness, rather than vilify and punish them, he said.