A FORMER soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan was cleared today of murdering his Leeds landlady.
Aaron Wilkinson, 24, of Alma Street, Woodlesford, Leeds, was found not guilty of murdering 52-year-old Judith Garnett by shooting her in the chest and head.
Wilkinson, who was also diagnosed with a form of Asperger’s Syndrome, told Bradford Crown Court he was not in control of his actions when he shot Mrs Garnett.
He has admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The jury took around three hours to reach the not-guilty verdict after the two-week trial.
The trial heard that Wilkinson joined the Territorial Army at 19 and went on a six-month tour of duty of Afghanistan in 2009.
Following his return, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress reaction by an army doctor and has since also been found to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, or a similar condition.
He was later assessed by psychiatrists who diagnosed him with the more serious post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wilkinson had worked for Mrs Garnett on her game farm for around 10 years and moved into her attic room as a lodger in July 2010 after an argument with his mother. He described Mrs Garnett as being like a “second mother” to him.
On the day of the shooting, Mrs Garnett returned home and shouted at him for not letting her dogs out during the day as she had requested, calling him “thick” and a “cruel bastard”.
Wilkinson said Mrs Garnett threw his gun up through the hatch into his attic bedroom and told him to “pack his bags”.
When Mrs Garnett returned to the attic room, Wilkinson fired three shots at her.
The first shot hit Mrs Garnett in the chest, the second grazed the side of her face and the third was fired from close range into her head.
Wilkinson said he could not explain why he shot Mrs Garnett and said it was as though he was in a “trance”.
Giving evidence, he said: “All of a sudden, something came over me, I don’t know what, I can’t explain that, all I just remember seeing is me lunging over to the other bed and I just watched myself load the gun and fire.
“It just sort of happened, I don’t know what came over me.”
The defendant added: “It sort of just went black and white and hazy at times. It was like I just turned into a mad man.”
He continued: “I felt like somebody I’m not.”
Wilkinson said he did not feel in control of himself at the time and would not have killed Mrs Garnett if he had been.
He said he remembered the events as though he were watching them in a movie or on television.
“It was like a TV screen, I’ve seen what was happening but I wasn’t in full control,” he said.
Wilkinson told the jury he realised what he had done immediately after firing the third shot.
“Straight away I saw what had happened and realised that I’d done a terrible wrong and phoned the police straight away,” he said.
The trial heard that Wilkinson’s mother told him she was not his mother any more and his application to join the regular Army had been turned down.
He was finding it hard to adapt to civilian life and was struggling to motivate himself.
Psychiatrists told the court that Wilkinson’s medical conditions meant he would have found the rejection by Mrs Garnett when she told him to move out “catastrophic”.
The court heard that his Asperger’s Syndrome meant he would have been less able to cope with the symptoms of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The combination of the two conditions led to a “real risk of a violent explosion” and an inability to exercise self-control when he felt himself to be under threat by Mrs Garnett, the court was told.
Summing up the case, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker said the “unpredictable, inexplicable, uncontrolled and out-of-character explosive act of violence” could be explained by Wilkinson’s mental conditions, which were “likely to substantially impair his ability to exercise self-control”.