Footballer says medication made him abuse his partner
Former Wallaby Brett Sheehan has blamed a dosage increase in mental health medication for the domestic violence incident in which he choked his wife, as he seeks to have his conviction quashed.
The 40-year-old walked arm in arm with his wife Laura into the Downing Centre District Court on Wednesday as he launched his appeal over what was described by his lawyers as out-of-character incident.
The former NSW Waratahs halfback was in April convicted of putting his hands around his wife's neck and squeezing to the point she had trouble breathing in their Sydney northern beaches home in October last year.
He was sentenced to a 12-month community corrections order and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.
He was convicted of common assault and intentionally choking a person without their consent but has appealed his conviction and the severity of his sentence.
His lawyers described the October 24 incident at their Warriewood home as a one-off and a result of an increase in medication to treat a mental health disorder.
"The episode was inextricably bound up with the medication … it had been varied and tweaked," Sheehan's barrister Michael Ainsworth said.
The court heard that he had increased his dosage for dexamphetamine, used to treat ADHD, from 15mg a day to 20mg a day about a month before the incident and he suffered personality changes and side effects including paranoia.
In February, the Manly Local Court refused his application for the charges to be withdrawn under section 32 of the Mental Health Act.
However in the Downing Centre District Court on Tuesday, Sheehan argued that he was suffering a mental illness at the time of the offence.
Mr Ainsworth told the court that Sheehan had suffered a major depressive episode since his professional football career ended and he had recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
He said that his client's mental health had "fallen off a bit of a cliff" at the conclusion of his 19-season professional football career which included several seasons with NRL clubs Brisbane, South Sydney and the now defunct Northern Eagles.
He then had stints with the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs and Western Force as well as making seven Test appearances for the Wallabies.
Mr Ainsworth said that after the incident, his wife's primary concern was for his wellbeing.
"She's concerned about him because he's so far off kilter, so far off centre of the person he is," Mr Ainsworth said.
"She is best placed to know. It's so far outside his normal pattern of behaviour."
The court heard that his employment prospects had been damaged by his conviction and that he wasn't currently working.
The crown prosecution rejected the suggestion there was a connection between an increase in his medication and his offending.
The incident occurred when he confronted her about a conversation with her sister, and he straddled her on the bed, strangling her for around 30 seconds while he yelled "I hate you".
He also pushed her against a bedroom window and stood on her leg before she locked herself in a bathroom and called triple-0.
He was later found by police inside his car and taken to Northern Beaches Hospital for a mental health assessment.
Judge Donna Woodburne will deliver her judgment next week.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Wife stands by ex-Wallaby who choked her