A mentally-disturbed graduate killed his former girlfriend in a “frenzy of violence” after psychiatrists had decided he did not need to be admitted to hospital, a court has heard.
Neighbours tried bravely to save Carolyn Ellis, 32, but Douglas Lawrence, 29, inflicted 45 knife wounds with such force that the tip of the blade broke and became embedded in her skull.
The couple had split up about eight weeks before the attack, and Lawrence presented himself at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and confessed to having thoughts of violence towards Ms Ellis, a student. However, “it was not considered appropriate for him to be admitted to hospital,” the High Court in Edinburgh was told.
Lawrence was initially charged with murdering Ms Ellis at her flat in West Tollcross, Edinburgh, on 17 January, but his plea to the lesser offence of culpable homicide was accepted by the Crown. He also admitted assaulting three other people. He has been detained in the State Hospital at Carstairs since the incident, and Lord Uist continued the detention for further assessment until January.
The judge said Lawrence had “engaged in a frenzy of violence” in which he killed his former girlfriend and seriously injured Pauline Smith, a neighbour.
A friend of Ms Ellis, Julie Flowers, attended the hearing and said: “All I can hope for is that she is in a happy place now.”
Lawrence had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication since spending six months in hospital in his youth, said the advocate-depute, Michael Stuart.
“The condition is unusual. Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s syndrome, is a disorder of social communication and interaction. Sufferers typically suffer from fixed, narrow thinking...and can be unable to control such dominant thinking and, as a consequence, the thinking manifests into action. In the accused’s case, he developed such dominant thinking in relation to violence. Clinical experience suggests that violent thoughts are not uncommon in sufferers of ASD but the associated risks to others are perceived as low.”
Lawrence had attended mainstream schooling and obtained a second class honours degree in philosophy at Edinburgh University in 2009. It appeared he had successfully managed his difficulties by living a circumscribed, mundane and predictable lifestyle.
Ms Ellis had studied previously at St Andrews University and at the time of her death was at Napier University, Edinburgh, studying reflexology. She suffered borderline personality disorder and had met Lawrence through outpatient psychiatric services. Their relationship - Lawrence’s first and only intimate relationship - was “complicated” by their respective mental health difficulties and Ms Ellis ended it in November last year.
“Following the breakdown, the accused self presented at the Andrew Duncan Clinic, reporting thoughts of violence towards the deceased. Various measures were put in place. At assessment on 11, 14 and 17 November, it was not considered appropriate for the accused to be admitted to hospital. A further review was fixed for 7 February. However, it appears he continued to struggle with the loss of the relationship and violent thoughts towards the deceased,” added Mr Stuart.
On 17 January, Lawrence went to Ms Ellis’s flat. They talked briefly before she asked him to leave. He became angry but she managed to get out of the flat and neighbours, Pauline Smith and Christeen Mackenzie, heard her cries for help in the stair. Lawrence had a belt round Ms Ellis’s throat and the neighbours intervened.
Lawrence fetched a knife from the flat and swung it at Ms Smith, who was tending Ms Ellis. The blow struck her arm, leaving her scarred for life. Next, Lawrence struck repeatedly at Ms Ellis as he knelt straddling her. Police arrived and had to use CS spray to bring him under control.
Mr Stuart said Ms Ellis sustained 28 stab wounds and 17 cuts, mainly to the head, neck and trunk.