Adrian Phillips may have been experiencing a bout of disassociation and “concrete thinking” when he gunned down a man he apparently perceived as an enemy, according to a top psychiatrist.
Adrian Reginald George Phillips, 24, is on trial the High Court in Hamilton.
He faces one charge of murder in relation to the death of Bayden Williams, 20, who was found dead on the side of the Kopu-Hikuai Road in the Coromandel Peninsula on the evening of Wednesday, August 5, 2020.
The Crown alleges Phillips deliberately rammed Williams’ vehicle off a twisting stretch of road. When Williams climbed up a bank back to the roadside, about 7pm that night, Phillips fatally injured him by shooting him three times – in the thigh, shoulder and, finally, his head – with a shotgun.
The Crown contends Phillips was in a murderous rage when he fired the shots. His defence counsel says Phillips fired the shots in self-defence, because he believed Williams was coming at him with a knife.
On Monday – the start of the fifth week of the trial – the jury heard from expert forensic psychiatrist Dr David Chaplow, who had been tasked by defence counsel Ron Mansfield QC to review much of the material pertaining to Phillips and the case.
Phillips had, in late December 2018, suffered horrific burns after he poured a tin containing flammable alcohol onto a bonfire, which then exploded.
Chaplow, who also interviewed Phillips twice following the shooting, said the bonfire explosion “would have been a significant trauma ... Generally people who suffer like this become self-absorbed. They don’t think laterally. They don’t think out of the box.”
Chaplow said Phillips may also have experienced “disassociation” when he was informed Williams – with whom he had a violent altercation in January 2020 – was reconciling with his partner’s sister.
“[Disassociation is] a way nature protects us from our feelings. We commonly see that in moments of high stress.”
Phillips had been self-medicating with marijuana, and had smoked some shortly before his fateful encounter with Williams that night.
“People operating under these states are very self-absorbed. The decision-making is concrete, literal, impetuous, without thought.”
Mansfield asked whether the altercation Phillips had with Williams in January 2020 may have had a compounding effect on his depression, anxiety and “concrete thinking”.
Chaplow replied: “It would be additive. I think it constitutes another trauma.”
Chaplow had also reviewed an appraisal by clinical psychologist Simon Seal, who, in the months before the incident, had assessed Phillips for evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The sessions with Seal were needed to see whether Phillips would qualify for ACC funding for PTSD. The last of those sessions was on July 28, 2020 – just over a week before the shooting – and at that time Seal had concluded Phillips was improving in his outlook.
Seal diagnosed Phillips with depression and anxiety. While there were elements of PTSD, there were not enough criteria exhibited by him to make a formal diagnosis, he said.
Chaplow said while he agreed with Seal’s conclusions, he was not so sure about the lack of PTSD, and reckoned Phillips would still have been suffering from “features” of PTSD by August 2020.
Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Rebecca Mann, Chaplow agreed that being depressed and anxious did not mean Phillips could not also be angry – and have his actions driven by that anger.
“I used the term self-absorbed ... It’s all about them. Their thinking becomes rather constrictive.
“People are constricted in their options. People are miserable, stressed, thinking about suicide rather than how they can get help.”
However, it did not follow that Phillips would not have been able to think at all during the shooting incident.
“Most dis-associative episodes are pretty brief.”