4 Apr 2016

Insanity verdict for Auckland murder-accused

4:48 pm on 4 April 2016

An Auckland man who stabbed a woman to death has been found not guilty of her murder by way of insanity.

Davina Nguyen, 48, was found bleeding heavily at her Papatoetoe home last April and died at the scene.

Thon Lam, 38, who lived at the house as a boarder, was charged with her murder.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

Thon Lam was found not guilty by way of insanity in the High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

His lawyer, Marie Dyhrberg, said Mr Lam accepted he had killed Ms Nguyen but today asked the High Court in Auckland for a verdict of insanity.

Justice Simon Moore said upon hearing the evidence of two psychiatrists who had assessed Mr Lam, that was the only proper verdict.

The court heard evidence of Mr Lam's long history of schizophrenia, combined with occasional substance abuse.

One of two psychiatrists called to give evidence, Graham Mellsop, said Mr Lam's schizophrenia was "actively present" in the weeks, days and hours leading up to Ms Nguyen's death.

In the days before Ms Nguyen's death, Mr Lam had been experiencing increasing paranoia and hearing voices, Justice Moore said.

He became so afraid that Ms Nguyen and his other friends were planning to kill him that he tried to sleep at his workplace and drove aimlessly around Auckland in an attempt to avoid going home.

When he did return to the house, Ms Nguyen took his car keys and his cellphone and told him to get some sleep.

A second psychiatrist, Russell Wyness, said that fed into Mr Lam's paranoia.

"He couldn't phone for help using his phone, and he no longer had [the use of] his car.

"So he felt that a trap had been set for him and that he was going to be killed at that time."

Shortly afterwards, Ms Nguyen found him in the kitchen with a knife behind his back, which he used to stab her, Justice Moore said in his summing-up.

The other occupants in the house - including the landlady and her five children - hid in another room, holding the door closed to stop Mr Lam coming in.

After he was arrested, Mr Lam continued to suffer from paranoid delusions, attempting to escape several times and refusing to eat the food he was given, Justice Moore said.

"Such was the extent of Mr Lam's schizophrenia that he did not know what he was doing was morally wrong."

That schizophrenia, which included nine hospitalisations, dated back to Mr Lam's teenage years.

Born in Cambodia, he and his family fled the Pol Pot regime when Mr Lam was three years old.

He lived in a refugee camp in Vietnam until he was 15, where he witnessed his close friend being stabbed to death in front of him.

"It was in a very short time of this [happening] that Mr Lam had his first psychotic episode," Justice Moore said.

He ordered Mr Lam to be held in hospital in a secure mental health unit as a special patient - meaning he could not be released until the Minister of Health was satisfied he no longer posed a danger.