Autistic man waits to hear whether he is fit to face murder trial|
PERTH, Australia: The unusual case of an autistic man charged with murdering his stepmother - whose body has never been found and death never formally established - will be determined by whether he is fit to stand trial.
West Australian Supreme Court Justice John McKechnie ruled on March 30 that, if Brent Donald Mack did go to trial, it would be in front of a judge without jury. However, he reserved his decision on whether Mack was mentally fit to face such proceedings.
Seamus Rafferty, representing the 26-year-old Mack, argued his client did not have the mental capacity to enter a plea, let alone stand trial for the murder of 56-year-old Ah Bee Mack, also known as Pauline, who was last seen in September 2008.
But Prosecutor Dave Dempster told the court: “He’s an intelligent man who runs a computer repair business.”
Mr Dempster argued there was “a strong case” against Mack, who sat the whole time in court with his head bowed, fists clenched, rocking back and forth.
The computer technician suffers from severe autism which, according to one psychiatrist, means he cannot hold a normal conversation.
Dr Mark Hall told the court on March 30 that Mack had an “inability to understand non-literal communication” and was not fit to stand trial.
“One example was where I asked him what it meant to put all your eggs in one basket," the doctor testified. “He replied that it meant if you dropped the basket, all your eggs would smash.”
However, another psychiatrist who interviewed Mack said it was “a question of ability versus willingness.” Dr Salvatore Febbo agreed it would be hard for Mack to give evidence due to his disability, but he was capable of following proceedings. “In my opinion, Mr Mack is fit to stand trial,” he said.
Mr Dempster said Mack was the only person living with his stepmother at the time of her disappearance, and had told police different versions of what had happened to her. One version was that she had gone overseas. Another was that she had found a new boyfriend and cut herself off from relatives and friends.
Mr Dempster alleged Mack had forged signatures and other documents to access Mrs Mack’s bank account and transfer her car into his name.
He has been remanded in custody since he was first charged with fraud in August 2010 in relation to the theft of $162,000 from his stepmother's bank account. The fraud charge was later upgraded to murder.
Justice McKechnie said it had not yet been established whether there had been a killing, and his decision would rest on whether Mack’s illness prevented him from “freely exercising his right” to speak or remain silent.
(Source: AAP, March 30, 2012)