First some facts.
Anne Burke killed her husband, Patrick Burke, by striking him on the head 23 times with a hammer as he lay in bed.
For this act, she was convicted of manslaughter and given a 5-year suspended sentence.
The judge said that the deceased man was responsible for a litany of abuse against his wife and that this was partially to blame for the severe depression she was going through at the time of the killing.
Anne Burke was acquitted of murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to her mental state.
In this case, the accused’s state of mind was the crucial issue deciding not only the jury’s decision to acquit her of murder, but also the judge’s decision to impose a lenient sentence for the killing.
Now, I’m not saying that Anne Burke deserved to go to jail. If the evidence is to be believed, Patrick Burke was a violent, drunken brute, although admittedly, being dead, he wasn’t present in court to defend his good name.
But nevertheless, going on the evidence before the court, it was right and proper to examine the mental processes that led Anne Burke to commit the crime and kill her husband. If she was at her wits’ end, the court was right to show compassion towards her, and it’s a good thing not to compound the pain for her children.
Contrast this with the case of David Bourke, who killed his wife after she conducted a humiliating affair and ordered him out of the house so that her boyfriend could move in.
Men have become unhinged by that sort of experience and yet, when I asked a simple question about the David Bourke case, every militant feminist in the country, and one or two from further afield, jumped on me, accusing me of being a misogynist and part of the patriarchal conspiracy to oppress women. In this clamour, they were joined by assorted cynics, bullies and loudmouths.
The question I asked was as follows: What was the mental process that led to this crime?
The Taliban branch of feminism would not tolerate anyone attempting to see behind their simplistic certainties about patriarchy and we ended up with a medieval howling mob attempting to stifle ideas they didn’t approve of.
Now, we discover that the mental processes leading to a crime are very relevant indeed. So relevant, in fact, that a murder charge has been downgraded to manslaughter and a woman has walked free after killing a man by beating him over the head twenty times with a hammer as he slept.
Why is it, then, that the killer’s mental processes are significant in one case but not in the other? Will we see the same mob howling for Mr Justice McCarthy’s head, because he dared to take account of the killer’s mental state?
I doubt it somehow, since the killer in this case wasn’t a man.