Man who strangled fiancee found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity

A SECURITY guard with no history of violence or mental illness who strangled his fiancée during a psychotic episode has been found not guilty of her murder by reason of insanity. Andrei Dobra (36), had enjoyed a loving and devoted relationship with Ioana Mihaela Pacala and less than 24 hours before killing her, they were captured on CCTV holding hands as they did their weekly shopping.

Two consultant psychiatrists agreed that Mr Dobra developed psychotic delusions that caused him to believe Ms Pacala was a threat to him and when he strangled her, he did not know that his actions were wrong.

Mr Dobra, with an address at Riverwalk Court, Fairyhouse Road in Ratoath had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murdering Ms Pacala in the home they shared on 12th November, 2022.

A jury of six men and six women took one hour and 44 minutes to reach their unanimous verdict.

“This case centres on the loss of a very young life that was full of promise,” she told the jury. “So all our sympathies go to her family.”

Ms Justice Melanie Greally remanded Mr Dobra to the National Forensic Mental Health Services Hospital in Portrane. He will be assessed by an approved medical officer who will provide a report to the court on July 19 outlining whether Mr Dobra requires continuing treatment for his mental illness.

Before the jury began their deliberations, Sean Guerin SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, told them that Ms Pacala's death had been an “immense tragedy for her family, friends and everyone who knew her”.

There is some mystery as to how the killing came to pass, Mr Guerin said, but Mr Dobra accepts that he strangled Ms Pacala to death. There is no suggestion that she threatened him or that there was a fight.

The evidence of two psychiatrists called by the defence and prosecution was that Mr Dobra was suffering from a mental disorder at the time.

They both came to the conclusion that due to his mental disorder, Mr Dobra had a delusional belief that he was under threat from Ms Pacala and therefore did not know that killing her was wrong.

Defence counsel Michael Bowman SC told the jury that Ms Pacala had lost her life without explanation or justification and not as a result of anything she had done.

The evidence the jury heard was of a couple who were devoted to one another and planning their lives together. “Tragically, mental illness intervened,” counsel said, “and labouring under a mental disorder he took Mihaela's life.”

Ms Justice Greally told the jury there is no doubt that Mr Dobra's actions were responsible for his fiancée's death.

Consultant psychiatrists Dr Brenda Wright and Professor Patricia Casey agreed that Mr Dobra held a delusional belief that Ms Pacala posed some threat to him.

They found that he therefore did not understand that his actions in killing her were wrong and qualified for the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Roxana Devan told the trial that she knew Mr Dobra for a number of years and described him as a happy person. He and Ms Pacala were a hardworking couple, she said.

They had moved into their new home shortly prior to Ms Pacala's death but in the week leading up to the killing, she said Mr Dobra was suffering from stress.

Both he and Mihaela said they heard strange noises in the house, “like some entity or something like that”.

Ms Devan brought Mr Dobra to a GP some days prior to the killing because he was complaining of feeling depressed and unwell. The day before the killing, Ms Devan noted that Mr Dobra was sweating heavily, “looking kind of weird, very unusual” and was not speaking.

On the day of the killing, Ms Devan received a call from Ms Pacala's family in Romania. They had been speaking to Mr Dobra, who told them that Ms Pacala was unconscious and they wanted to get an ambulance to the house. Ms Devan phoned emergency services to direct them and then phoned Mr Dobra.

She asked to speak to Ms Pacala but he told her: “You can't be talking to her because I think she is dead.” When she asked what he meant, he told her he had a dream that he was killing Ms Pacala, that he woke up from the dream next to her and saw she was dead.

Garda Michael Fitzpatrick was one of the first to respond to Ms Devan's emergency call at about 6pm. He met Mr Dobra inside the entrance to his apartment and found him to be “extremely calm, emotionless, just standing at the top of the stairs looking down towards us.”

Mr Dobra led gardaí into a bedroom where Ms Pacala was lying dead on her back on the bed, fully clothed and with blood in her mouth.

Mr Dobra remained “completely compliant” with a blank, vacant, and detached expression, the garda said. “He presented as unusual to me considering what I had just found in the bedroom”.

When asked what had happened, Mr Dobra told Garda Fitzpatrick: “She gave me tablets to drink and then I don't remember.”

State pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster examined the deceased's body and found that the cause of death was asphyxia and strangulation. Bruising to the neck was consistent with a ligature or an arm lock and possible manual strangulation.