Criminal Justice

Judge Accepts Australian Lawyer's Argument That He Forgot Stealing Two Paintings

A Sydney lawyer who stole two valuable paintings while dining in an art gallery restaurant has persuaded a judge that he doesn’t remember committing the crime.

Michael Gerald Sullivan, 54, claimed to be suffering from a form of amnesia that caused him to take on the identity of an art thief and not remember his actions, ABC News reports.

Prosecutors had less complicated explanation for what happened. They said Sullivan knew exactly what he was doing, had lied to the police in an attempt to cover up the crime and was refusing to take responsibility for his actions.

Sullivan had pleaded guilty to stealing the two paintings, valued at $14,500, while dining at a Blue Mountains art gallery restaurant in December 2008. The entire theft was recorded on the gallery’s security cameras.

When police went to Sullivan’s home, they found the two paintings by well-known Australian artist James Willebrant, hanging on a wall. At the time, Sullivan, still unaware of the security footage, claimed he had paid a woman at the gallery a $2,000 deposit on the two paintings and intended to pay the balance by check.

At his sentencing hearing, however, Sullivan presented two psychiatric reports saying he was suffering from “dissociative amnesia,” and was essentially playing the character of an art thief at the time of the crime.

Prior coverage:

Sydney Morning Herald: “Lawyer can’t recall stealing artworks”

Judge Jennifer English accepted the diagnosis, saying Sullivan had otherwise lived an exemplary life. She placed him on a two-year good behavior bond and set him free.

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