A SCHIZOPHRENIC man who killed a woman when he set fire to his family's Akerama home has been acquitted of murder and arson after a judge ruled he was insane at the time.
The tragic case - in which 22-year-old Arihia Faulkner was killed on June 19 last year - was concluded in the High Court at Whangarei yesterday without the need for a jury trial.
Ryan Brown-Howarth, who suffers from schizophrenia, was charged with Ms Faulkner's murder and the arson of his family home a day after the fatal blaze razed the two-storey house.
The case was stalled for many months as doctors tried to decide whether the 21-year-old was even fit to enter a plea.
However, after hearing expert evidence yesterday Justice Graham Lang agreed with both the Crown and defence that he was not guilty on both charges by reason of insanity.
He ordered that Brown-Howarth be detained as a special patient at a high security unit at Auckland's Mason clinic.
Justice Lang said in the early hours of June 19 last year Brown-Howarth spread petrol strategically throughout the Akerama Rd property and set it alight.
A fire alarm alerted the family to the blaze which quickly took hold. Brown-Howarth's parents and two sisters managed to escape the fire, but Ms Faulkner did not.
Brown-Howarth fled in his mother's car to Auckland but ditched the vehicle when it ran out of petrol on the motorway. He was later caught by police, eventually admitting he lit the fire.
The court heard that Brown-Howarth suffered from severe schizophrenia and that two expert psychiatrists believed he was insane at the time he lit the fire.
Dr Ian Goodwin, who treated Brown-Howarth at the Mason Clinic, said despite receiving the most powerful anti-psychotic medicine available he had made only slow progress since he was admitted 18 months ago.
Justice Lang said Brown-Howarth had led a normal life until late 2004 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. From then his behaviour changed so drastically his family had him admitted to mental health facility.
In 2006 Brown-Howarth's behaviour become increasingly bizarre, the judge said.
He became withdrawn, staring into space and talking to himself. He drew pictures on his wall and began to light small fires at the property.
*Family want board's answer
Yesterday's not guilty finding signalled the end of a long-running ordeal for Ryan Brown-Howarth's family - but now they want answers from the Northland District Health Board about his treatment.
Tony Howarth said since December 2004 he had been demanding his son be prescribed clozapine, a high strength anti-psychotic.
Mr Howarth said staff from Auckland's Mason Clinic had recommended the drug for his son, but claims the Northland District Health Board refused to pay for it and instead prescribed other medication.
Yesterday, the court heard that Ryan Brown-Howarth was now receiving clozapine.
Mr Howarth believes had his son received the drug when he asked for it, the tragedy might not have happened.
He plans to raise his concerns with the health board and at a coroner's inquest into Ms Faulkner's death.
"We don't want this to happen to anyone else, and as far as I am concerned if they (the health board) had listened we would not have been here today," Mr Howarth said.
However, he said the family was pleased the court process was now over.
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