Considering the Facts


Considering the facts as mentioned in the news, and because there were no other witnesses as both the victim and the perpetrator died, I might suggest the presence of mental illness interfered with the responsibility at the time of the commission of the act. The most probable nature of the illness would be related to: 1) epilepsy; 2) an affective illness with psychotic features; or 3) a psychotic episode related to epilepsy.

The Law at the Turn of the Century

Because Queen Victoria was so displeased with the verdict of McNaughten, who was found not guilty on the ground of insanity and sent to Bethlem Hospital, she wrote to Sir Robert Peel wanting the law to be reviewed. The Queen was displeased because she felt everybody thought that young McNaughten killed when he was perfectly conscious and aware of what he did. She could not understand how the legislation could lay down those kinds of rules. It was impossible for the government to disregard the volume of public and royal discontent that was echoed in the House of Lords’ debates of March 6, 1843. The Lord Chancellor then put to a panel of his Majesty’s Judges five questions designed to clarify their legal position. Their reply of June 19, 1843 constitutes the so-called McNaughten rule. Here are the main points of that rule:

1) Every man is to be presumed to be sane and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crime, until the contrary be proved.

2) An insane person is punishable according to the nature of the crime committed if he knew at the time of committing such crime that he was acting contrary to law by which expression we understand your Lordship to mean the Law of the Land.

3) To establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that at the time of the committing of the act the accused party was laboring under such defect of reason from disease of the mind and did not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.

4) The insane person must be considered in the same situation of responsibility as if the facts of the delusions were real. For example, if he supposes another man to be in the act of attempting to take away his life under the influence of his delusion, and he kills that man, as he supposes in self-defense, he would be exempt from punishment. If his delusion were that the deceased had inflicted serious injury to his character and fortune and he killed him in revenge for such supposed injury, he would be liable to punishment.

5) The last point emphasized that it was the jury’s role to decide whether the defendant was insane.

The other possibility at the turn of the century was diminished responsibility and automatism. Diminished responsibility could be considered when there were extenuating circumstances. As for automatism, it is when someone has done an act or an omission while unconscious, for example being in a somnambulistic state.

The Evidence as Presented by the Inquiry

Information from the Coroner’s report

Peter Redpath, a brother, said that he saw his brother at around 6 o’clock. He mentioned that Clifford looked sick when he arrived, looking very tired as he was working to prepare for his Bar exam. Clifford went to his 62 year old mother’s room, and he heard three gunshots.
From the evidence: Mother was on the floor, lots of blood. A few feet from her, Clifford was also in a blood pool and he had the revolver close to him, near to his hand. Mr. Redpath said that his brother had been very nervous for some time.

Dr Roddick, a medical practitioner and family doctor who had known the family for 20 years, suggested that the son was epileptic and therefore not responsible for his action before, during and after the assault. He had seen him a few days before and had advised him to take some rest.

Dr Hugh Patton arrived at the same time as Dr Campbell. He saw two revolvers. The wound of the young man was at the left temple, and the mother’s was in the back of her head.

Dr Campbell confirmed the testimony of Dr Patton and added that there was some foam around the mouth of the perpetrator which was an evidence of recent epileptic seizure.

Mrs. Rosa Shallow also saw two revolvers near Mr. Clifford Redpath. She had never seen the two revolvers before. She had never even seen one revolver in Mrs. Redpath’s room. One revolver shot 1 bullet, the other one shot 2.

The verdict: Ada Maria Mills died in Montreal from a gunshot wound, apparently inflicted by her son while unconscious of what he was doing, temporarily insane secondary to an epileptic attack from which he was suffering at the time.


Considering the facts reported in the newspapers (assuming that those facts are accurate), the testimony during the coroner’s inquiry, the known epileptic condition of Mr. Redpath, and the evidence of some foam around the mouth, Mr. Redpath most likely suffered from an epileptic seizure at the time of the commission of the act.

Mr. Redpath was a known epileptic. Although the type of epilepsy is nowhere mentioned, based on the fact that he had some foam around the mouth, we can assume that it was the Grand Mal type of epilepsy.

As for the other medical evidence, the perpetrator’s brother mentioned that Clifford had been quite nervous for some time. The family physician also reported some other symptoms such as insomnia and being quite tired as he was overworked due to an undue stress. Moreover, there were no reported conflicts between the mother and son. In fact, he had been quite devoted to his mother who suffered from some handicap and he was described as having been a caring son despite suffering from his own difficulties. There is no evidence available to attest to the fact that Mr. Redpath had a previous psychiatric history of psychotic or depressive nature, nor that there was any family history of this condition. There is no indication that there was any previous drug or alcohol intake.

An epileptic seizure would lead to a defense of automatism which, from a medical point of view, can be defined as a significant disturbance of consciousness. Consciousness is defined as follows: normal consciousness necessitates an intricate and coherent relationship between the various components of the individual’s body and mind to ensure his harmonious awareness of himself as an entity of the realities of his environment and of his ability to control his behavior. This includes the normal functioning of attention, concentration, interest and perception as well as his cognitive, affective and conative traits. The cognitive traits include intellectual faculties of memory, reasoning and judgment. The affective ones include emotions, sentiments and moods and the conative ones, initiative, endeavor and perseverance.

Peter Fenwick’s review of automatism suggests that it is an involuntary piece of behavior over which an individual has no control. The behavior itself is usually inappropriate to the circumstances and may be out of character for the individual. It can be complex, coordinated and apparently purposeful and directed though lacking in judgment. Afterwards, the individual may have no recollections or only partial and confused memories of his actions. In organic automatism, there must be some disturbances of brain functions sufficient to give rise to the above features.

From a legal point of view, the doctrine of the mens rea, or the presence of a guilty mind, can only be negated by three major considerations:

1) The mind is not guilty because the person is innocent;
2) The mind is deceased which rests on the McNaughten rule;
3) At the time of the act, there was an absence of mind so that any action carried out was automatic.

This leads to a defense of automatism. If the automatism is sane, meaning that there was no disease of the mind of a psychiatric nature at this particular point, the person can be acquitted. If however the automatism was carried on by a mind suffering from a disease well-documented and proved beyond reasonable doubt, the individual would be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Based on Dr Roddick’s testimony at the Coroner’s inquiry, the jury – based on the law at the time – had no choice but to find Mr. Redpath temporarily insane since the physician’s opinion was that Mr. Redpath did not know what he was doing before, during and after the attack. Therefore, based on the McNaughten rule, the jury could only find Mr. Redpath insane at the time of the act. The distinction between temporarily insane goes well with the lack of evidence that he suffered from severe and persistent mental illness based on his past and current medical history. Nowadays, the standards are more or less the same in terms of the insanity defense, where due to a disease of the mind at the time of the commission of the act, or the omission, the individual was not able to appreciate the nature and consequences of the act and/or not able to differentiate right from wrong.

Contrary to Dr Roddick’s opinion, based on the history and the evidence given at the time of the inquiry, I would testify that Mr. Redpath most likely suffered from an epileptic seizure at the time of the commission of the act. Although there is no proof because of the lack of a precise diagnosis, we would be inclined to consider temporal lobe epilepsy since ictal activities can lead to a confused or obtunded twilight state. As such, the verdict might be an acquittal on the grounds of automatism (sane automatism).

Studies going back to the late 1970s describe patients who had repetitive automatism such as picking or chewing movements, while others were obtunded, responding only to insistent stimulation with simple, though often coordinated, behavior. There may be psychotic features with a paranoid flavor and paranoid delusions or content. We would be inclined to consider that based on these convictions and on paranoid perceptions, young Redpath killed his mother and ended up killing himself after he realized what he had done. Another hypothesis would be that he was still fearful and decided to put an end to his life; but the first hypothesis is more likely.

These episodes may end spontaneously with Grand mal seizures. It is however unusual for crimes to be committed during temporal status because there is usually a gross impairment of consciousness preventing coordinated actions. The fact that revolvers were found might confirm paranoid perceptions of the environment at the time of the offence.

The other hypothesis, which again lacks evidence to confirm it, is the possibility of an affective illness of a depressive nature. We can consider Mr. Redpath’s increased nervousness for some time, his fatigue, stress related to the Bar examination, and the duty that he had to give some support and care to his invalid mother, and that he looked kind strange in the morning. These constitute some of the elements that could confirm the presence of an affective illness with the possibility of melancholic features. Since the subject could not consider continuing the care for this mother, feeling overwhelmed at the time, he decided to take her life prior to taking his own. We however, do not have much medical evidence that such symptoms could be part of an affective illness, as those symptoms are not specific and could be part of another psychiatric condition, such as an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressive features.

From a forensic and medical point of view, an illness is never sufficient to excuse the responsibility of an individual. In the case of a mental illness, the intensity of this medical illness is crucial. As for the automatism defense, medical evidence is required to prove the epilepsy or any other organic conditions that could impair the consciousness and the ability of an individual to have a criminal mind. In that particular case based on the evidence, the likelihood of an epileptic seizure is the most probable underlying cause of the acting out of Mr. Redpath. Dr Roddick’s opinion of temporary insanity most likely refers to a psychiatric illness of a psychotic nature which we do not have medical evidence for. It is however the duty of the members of the jury to balance the probabilities and it is their prerogative to give the weight they estimate to the legal and medical evidence provided to them. Most likely, the medical evidence and opinion of Dr Roddick were determinant in the jury’s verdict.

One must be cautioned.
Justice is one thing, the Law another, based on evidence.
The reality might be otherwise.
Do remember-the door was locked.
The mystery remains…as Victorian society was very secretive.

Respectfully submitted,

Renée Fugère, M.D., FRCPC

Source: Renée Fugère, M.D., FRCPC, Considering the Facts, 2008

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