The court heard accused Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas is ‘unwell’ and ‘psychotic’. (AAP: Daniel Pockett)
The accused Bourke Street driver believes he is the “second coming of Christ” and deliberately drove into people to try to stop police pursuing him so he could “contact Aboriginal royalty”, a jury has been told.
James Gargasoulas is facing a special hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial on six counts of murder, 28 counts of attempted murder and a number of other offences stemming from the tragedy in January 2017.
His defence lawyers are arguing he should not stand trial because he is unable to enter a plea, instruct his lawyers, challenge jurors or understand the effect of the evidence against him.
Psychiatrist Dr Lester Walton, who is engaged by the defence, told a jury Mr Gargasoulas has schizophrenia and is experiencing delusions including “specific beliefs that he is the messiah”, the “second coming of Christ”.
The court heard Mr Gargasoulas had signed a letter sent from prison as being from “the new king, King James George Gargasoulas … king of kings, ruler of all the universe”.
Dr Walton said Mr Gargasoulas told him that on the day of the Bourke Street tragedy he was on a mission to contact “Aboriginal royalty” who would initiate the process of recognising him as the messiah.
“He was being pursued by police and wanted to get rid of them in order to be free to pursue the promulgation of these ideas,” he said.
“Shortly thereafter was this tragic event and that seems to have been, at least partly-motivated, by a specific desire to injure a person … to actually cause the police to desist from him and then he would be free to contact Aboriginal royalty.”
“He is preoccupied still with this important task.”
Dr Walton said he spoke about “this tragic event … in the most bland and indifferent way”.
Gargasoulas ‘smiled inappropriately’ while talking about Bourke Street
The court heard a psychologist engaged by the prosecution, Professor Michael Daffern, has also assessed Mr Gargasoulas and reported he had “smiled inappropriately” before explaining the Bourke Street incident.
“When I asked him about his smiling, he appeared surprised and denied smiling,” Professor Daffern wrote in a report.
“He also smiled and bragged about assaulting a man.
“Throughout the three interviews, Mr Gargasoulas exhibited no unusual behaviours, he did not appear to have any difficulties with his comprehension … and the rate, volume, quantity and fluency of his speech were normal.”
Under cross-examination, Dr Walton said he put Mr Gargasoulas’ abnormal emotional response down to incongurency of emotional expression which is a symptom of schizophrenia.
But he said the only predominant symptom Mr Gargasoulas exhibits is delusional thoughts.
Dr Walton said Mr Gargasoulas does not believe he has a mental illness and is fixated on being able to espouse his ideas in court.
“He initially said he’s going to plead not guilty on the basis, ‘I’m innocent’, and then he went on to say ‘I wasn’t in my right mind when I committed the offence, I want to plead mental impairment’,” Dr Walton said.
“He’s received advice that that is an option for him.
“Ultimately, he seems to be quite indifferent about what plea should be entered … all he’s fixated on is that he has an opportunity to espouse his ideas.”
Accused ‘unwell, psychotic’, jury told
Dr Walton spent an hour with Mr Gargasoulas in prison on three separate occasions before giving evidence.
Under cross-examination, Dr Walton admitted he had not specifically assessed Mr Gargasoulas’ fitness to stand trial before writing his report which found he was unfit.
Dr Walton said Mr Gargasoulas told him he’d be released from jail by 2020 and that he knew “from a past life” that his criminal trial would be held in September.
“This man remains unwell, psychotic,” he said.
“He’s fixated on this idea of promulgating his ideas.”
Dr Walton said he had been supplied with Mr Gargasoulas’ Justice Health files from 2013 – 2018, a folder of transcribed phone conversations Mr Gargasoulas has had since being in prison and the 6,500 page police brief of evidence.
The hearing before Justice Lex Lasry continues.