Ex-soldier cleared of gun murder

 

A former soldier who shot his landlady dead after returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder has been cleared of her murder.

Gamekeeper Aaron Wilkinson, 24, 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 admitted manslaughter earlier on the grounds of diminished responsibility and will be sentenced for that offence at a later date.

The court heard that Wilkinson, of Alma Street, Woodlesford, Leeds, joined the Territorial Army at 19 and went on a six-month tour of duty of Afghanistan in 2009.

While in Afghanistan, he suffered a minor shrapnel wound during an intense two-day battle with the Taliban and later witnessed three Afghan soldiers die in front of him when they triggered an improvised explosive device.

Wilkinson was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress reaction by an Army doctor and has also been found to suffer from Asperger's Syndrome, or a similar condition, since his return.

He was later assessed by psychiatrists who diagnosed him with the more serious post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Following his return from Afghanistan, Wilkinson moved into Mrs Garnett's attic room as a lodger after an argument with his mother in which she had told him she was no longer his mother.

He had worked for Mrs Garnett on her game farm for around 10 years and described her as being like a "second mother" to him.

During this time, Wilkinson applied to join the regular Army but his application was turned down.

He found it hard to adapt to civilian life and motivate himself and his relationship with Mrs Garnett began to deteriorate.

On the day of the shooting, January 24 last year, Mrs Garnett returned home and shouted at him for not letting her dogs out, calling him "thick" and a "cruel bastard".

Wilkinson said he shot Mrs Garnett three times after she threw his gun up through the hatch into his attic bedroom and told him to "pack his bags".

The first shot hit her 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".

"It sort of just went black and white and hazy at times. It was like I just turned into a mad man," he said.

"I felt like somebody I'm not."

Wilkinson said he remembered the events as though he was watching them.

"It was like a TV screen, I've seen what was happening but I wasn't in full control," he said.

Wilkinson said he realised immediately afterwards that he had "done a terrible wrong" and called the police.

Psychiatrists told the court that Wilkinson's mental conditions meant Mrs Garnett's order to move out was a "catastrophic" rejection to him after those already received from his mother and the Army.

The court heard that the combination of Asperger's Syndrome and PTSD left him unlikely to be able to exercise self-control when he felt himself under threat by Mrs Garnett.

This resulted in an "unpredictable, inexplicable, uncontrolled and out-of-character explosive act of violence".

The jury took around three hours to reach the not-guilty verdict after the two-week trial.

Wilkinson's sentencing was adjourned for at least two months for further psychiatric assessments to decide on the danger posed by the defendant.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker thanked the family of Mrs Garnett for their dignity.

"This has been a very difficult and, in many ways, distressing, if not harrowing, trial," he said.

"This must have been the most appalling experience for you and I have the deepest admiration for the dignity with which you have sat in court and listened to the evidence."

The judge added: "I thank you very much for your impeccable behaviour during the course of this trial."

Speaking outside the court after the verdict, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Walker, of West Yorkshire Police, said: "No one could have predicted the dreadful events when a young man Judith Garnett had supported for many years turned on her in such a violent and horrific way."

He said the family were disappointed but accepted the verdict and praised them for the "dignity and restraint" they had shown throughout the trial.

Reading a statement from the family, Mr Walker said: "(Judith Garnett) took in Aaron Wilkinson when he was homeless, gave him a roof over his head, employment and treated him like part of the family.

"She was a kind, generous woman and a remarkable woman, truly admired by many and an inspiration to those who knew her.

"We all feel a huge gap in our lives that can never be replaced."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy