They had been married for more than 18 years. But, in the past few, George Tannous became increasingly obsessed with one thing.
He was adamant his wife Margaret was cheating on him – sleeping with men in her office, flirting with tradesman, even having an affair with his cousin.
She was provoking him with such acts and leaving deliberate clues for him to discover, he believed.
It ended with him using a broom handle to bash his 49-year-old wife to death in their Bankstown home on February 17, 2014, despite none of his delusional fears being true.
On Thursday, NSW Supreme Court judge Jane Mathews found Mr Tannous, 59, not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness following a judge-alone trial that lasted less than one hour.
Both the defence and the prosecution agreed with an assessment by forensic psychiatrist Adam Martin, who told the court he had diagnosed Mr Tannous with a major psychotic disorder he referred to as delusional jealousy or morbid jealousy.
Mr Tannous was “overwhelmingly preoccupied and angry about his wife’s supposed acts of infidelity”, Crown prosecutor Terry Thorpe told the court, paraphrasing from Dr Martin’s report.
He confronted a carpenter working in their home one day, making accusations of flirting. He was suspicious of a man who shared his wife’s office. He was convinced she was sleeping with his cousin. Eventually, Mr Tannous was stalking his wife.
He was “not open to any alternative explanations of that behaviour… [of] innocent things that were occurring”, Mr Thorpe said, stressing that not one of Mr Tannous’ beliefs had “basis in fact”.
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“Did you come to the view that he had very limited insight into what was going on?” Mr Thorpe asked Dr Martin in court.
“Yes, I think he had no insight,” he replied.
However, this obsessive disorder had developed only in recent years.
Before that, Mr Tannous exhibited controlling and suspicious behaviour. He told Dr Martin he had a mental health plan drawn up for him in 2012 but he stopped taking antidepressants because he was “concerned it would do something to his brain”.
Dr Martin concluded that the paranoid personality style and the development of the delusional disorder were not mutually exclusive.
“Delusions of jealousy against a backdrop of having a long history of controlling behaviour,” was his final conclusion, Mr Thorpe said.
Justice Mathews found that this disorder directed Mr Tannous’ actions in killing his wife and substantially impaired his judgement.
“There is no dispute at all that it was he who killed the victim,” she said. “And indeed he has always accepted responsibility for the act of killing her but the medical evidence is clear that at the time he did that he was suffering a mental illness.”
She assured Mrs Tannous’ family and supporters that he would be locked in a mental health facility until it was proven he wasn’t a danger.
“He’s not being exonerated. He’s not being allowed out into the community,” she said.
An agreed statement of facts said Mrs Tannous had returned from a trip to Lebanon on February 17 to find her husband had kicked out a man who shared her office space and had refused to allow a real estate agent in to sell their Bankstown unit.
An argument ensured and she said she wanted a divorce. He then took a broom stick from the laundry and repeatedly bashed her on the head, leaving her in a pool of blood.
As he made his way to Bankstown police station to hand himself in, he made phone calls to his children, his mother-in-law and other relatives telling them he hit his wife because he was “mad” at her but he didn’t think she was dead.
Mr and Mrs Tannous’ two adult children, Elie and Therese, were too distraught to attend court on Thursday and are understood to be angry and upset at what they believe is feigned illness by their father.
Elie posted an emotional tribute to his mother on Facebook after her death, saying she was “my angel my life my queen the closest person to me”.
He said she had spent 18 years suffering in a marriage that most women would have “let go” after three months.
Mrs Tannous’ niece and nephew attended in their place and shook their heads when Mr Tannous, wearing prison greens and a religious cross around his neck, entered a not guilty plea.
Her nephew said “f— you” to Mr Tannous when he appeared in the dock. Outside court, niece Jessica Karam said her aunt was “a beautiful person”.
“I think that violence against women is wrong in any case and I miss my aunty very much,” she said.
❏ Support is available by phoning National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Men’s Referral Service 1300 766