Self-confessed teenage killer Sean Hackett, who shot his 60-year-old father Aloysius ‘Wishie’ Hackett, has been acquitted of his brutal murder, but convicted of manslaughter, by reason of ‘diminished responsibility’.
While the 19-year-old former GAA footballing star, showed no emotion, his mother Eilis, wept openly as she sat behind him in the packed public gallery of Dungannon Crown Court on Thursday, clutching a memory card of her dead husband.
Beside her, Hacketts’ three siblings also cried, comforting each other and their mother.
Even before the start of his week-long trial, Hackett had always admitted the unlawful killing of his father, whom he shot twice in the head, in the driveway of their Aghindarrah Road family home in Augher, Tyrone, on January 4 last year.
It took the jury of six women and six men just over two and a half hours to acquit him.
Initially there was some confusion over the ‘Not Guilty’ murder verdict, and trial judge Mr Justice Stephens asked the jury to retire. Within moments he called them back to ask if “all of you” had reached a verdict in relation to the alternative charge of manslaughter, and diminished responsibilty.
The madam foreperson, said they had reach a “guilty” verdict on the charge.
Afterwards Mr Justice Stephens remanded the teenager back into custody until further reports on him are obtained before he is sentenced next month.
By their verdict the jury accepted the defence case that Hackett was a mentally disturbed deluded teen on the possible verge of schizophrenia when he killed the father he professed to have loved.
They also accepted the defence contention that: “This is a very clear case of diminished responsibility .... and a finding of manslaughter would be the right verdict, the just verdict, and proper verdict”.
By the same token they rejected the prosecution case that he was not suffering from a recognised mental disorder, and that while: “Sean Hackett had a good life and a good family ... he was a dangerous man, because the smiling pleasant helpful nice guy underneath, was a bad wicked planning manipulative killer and that is what he remains”.
Mr Justice Stephens had told the jury that while people may act abnormally, it did not mean they suffered from an abnormality of mental functioning. However, he added: “We know people do the most dreadful things without abnormal mental functioning.
“All killings are abhorent. All killings are truly horrific. All killings arise from some thought process...but...that does not mean it is an abnormality of mental functioning”.
When his trial had opened last week, the jury heard that Hackett, armed with a deadly Czech hunting rifle he’d borrowed from a friend, lay in wait for his father, a former chairman of St Macartan’s GAA club, to return home from a meeting.
As he got out of his car, keys still in hand, his youngest son shot him in the back of the head. He screamed “No”, but as he fell to the ground his son had already re-loaded the rifle, and fired again.
Hackett went and felt his father’s hand, which was cold, so he said a prayer over him.
The court heard that when first questioned he told police “something was wrong at the house”, possibly a burglary, but later admitted: “I did it ...I shot him”.
Later in a prepared statement, he reported: “I was involved in an incident with reference to the death of my daddy whom I love very much .... I have been suffering from depression and was seeking medical attention at the time. That’s all I have to say at this time.”
During the trial, described as one of the most extraordinary and complex criminal cases ever to come before the courts, the jury also heard a number of conflicting descriptions about the teenager, not least from his mother.
Although her son had tried to strangle her ten weeks earlier with an electrical flex, mother and son had lay together on a single bed in a neighbour’s home after the shooting. He had asked to speak to her privately, and as they both cried, they “hugged and cuddled each other”.
The mother of four, said her son was someone she was “very proud of .... a great boy”, but from that day to this she has never asked him why he shot his father. All she had asked, the court heard, was if her husband, had seen him, he had replied “no”.
Mrs Hackett said father and son were “almost like brothers’’, and that: “We were the perfect family. Sean loved his dad and vice versa. Wishie loved him.’’
The court had also heard from Tyrone GAA supremo Mickey Harte who described the teenager as “a very quite, unassuming, lovely young gentleman ....very warm and very caring, and anything ‘cold and uncaring’ .... “totally opposite to that description”.
Mr Harte said he had his “eye on him” as a future senior county player and that Hackett, both as a club and county footballer had a “lot to look forward to”.
Alluding to the fact he had already captained the county minors, Mr Harte explained that such positions were not passed out on a whim, and had to be earned.
However, despite this glowing accolade, Hackett had confided that he was thinking of ways of getting out of the game, but realised he simply could not drop out of playing as it would raise too many questions, but that it was “good” whenever he would get a text saying, “there would be no training”.
On other occasions, Hackett reported that he, “faked injury” to get out of training. Although he went to the gym to do some training, it was not long before he showered and went off home.
The jury also heard conflicting evidence from two leading consultants, one a psychologist, called by the defence, the other a psychiatrist, engaged by the prosecution. While both agreed Hackett had been acting rationally, and logically, and had displayed episodes of self-control, they disagreed about his state of mind at the time of the shooting.
Psychiatrist Dr Fred Browne said Hackett was suffering from ‘an adjustment disorder’ brought on by the break-up with his girlfriend, but that could in no way excuse or explain his homicidal tendencies and the feeling of power, excitement and control he got from thoughts of killing a parent.
The jury accepted the findings of forensic clinical psychologist Dr Philip Pollock who said he was suffering from a recognised mental condition.
Dr Pollock said he’d found while Hackett knew his plans to kill either of his parents was both highly illegal and morally wrong, he was nevertheless driven to commit the slaughter as a solution to his unhappiness and teenage problems.
They also in turn brought in the verdict the defence had asked of them. The defence contended that: “to convict him of murder, on the evidence you have heard, first of all, would not remedy any justice to the deceased Mr Hackett, what it would simply do, we suggest, would create another injustice, that is the conviction of murder, where the mental state of this young man, does not merit it”.