A murderer is facing a life sentence after being convicted of bludgeoning a single mum to death with a claw hammer in Blairhall.

Aaron Donald admitted brutally battering the back of 36-year-old Claire Turnbull’s head eight times with the weapon, shattering her skull and showering the room with blood and brain matter.

Although Donald, from Torryburn, confessed to the killing, he claimed he should not be found guilty of murder because his ability to control his actions was “substantially impaired by reason of abnormality of mind” at the time.

Defence medical experts claimed his defence of diminished responsibility was supported by psychiatric and psychological findings that he had an anti-social personality disorder and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There was also evidence that he may have been suffering withdrawal symptoms following a dramatic reduction in his prescribed anti-psychotic medication two weeks prior to the killing.

However, the experts admitted their diagnoses were based on Donald’s self-reported claims that prison guards and fellow inmates at Perth Prison had ganged up to repeatedly sexually abuse and rape him while he was serving a previous sentence.

Donald pushed the boundaries of belief further by telling one psychiatrist that nurses were telepathically monitoring his thoughts and that police had had him hypnotised by illusionist Derren Brown so they could find out what crimes he had committed. 

The jury at the High Court in Livingston did not believe his stories and took less than three hours to return a majority verdict finding him guilty of murder, not the less serious crime of culpable homicide.

Donald showed no emotion as the decision was read out.

Following the verdict, advocate depute Bernard Ablett revealed that Donald had numerous previous convictions for violence including one in 2006 for assault to injury using a hammer, an assault using a hypodermic needle in 2013 and armed robbery in 2017 for which he was jailed for three years.

He also highlighted several other convictions for attempted robbery, domestic assault and carrying knives, including one for introducing a sharp object into prison.

Judge Lady Scott called for a criminal justice social work report and an up-to-date psychiatric report and deferred sentence until November 29 at the High Court in Glasgow.

She told the accused: “Sentence for murder is fixed by law and it’s imprisonment for life.

“I have to impose a period which must pass before you can apply for parole – that’s called the punishment part.

“When that part has passed your release from prison will be a matter for the Parole Board and after that you’ll be on recall and subject to return to prison for the rest of your life.”

She urged him to co-operate with the psychiatrist preparing the report for court.

Turning to jurors she thanked them for their deliberations, adding: “I appreciate you’ve had to hear and see distressing evidence.”

She highlighted that counselling was available to those who wanted it and had the clerk minute that they could, if they chose, be exempted from jury service for life.

Outside court, Claire’s mum Heather, 54, said: “I want to thank the jury and the prosecution team for what they have done.

“I am totally relieved and happy with the verdict which has finally brought justice for my daughter.”

Anne Turnbull, her sister, said Claire’s death had affected her wider family. She said: “We mustn’t forget she was a daughter, a niece and a mummy.”

On the final day of Donald’s 11-day trial, the 28-year-old was acquitted on Thursday of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by hiding the bloodstained murder weapon and lying to police after the prosecution withdrew the charge.

His girlfriend McMurdo, 30, was earlier cleared of murder and the alleged cover up after the Crown decided there was insufficient evidence to convict her.

Giving evidence in his own defence, Donald claimed he had reacted violently after seeing his girlfriend trying to fight off Claire’s sexual advances in the livingroom of their flat in Rintoul Avenue, Blairhall.

He admitted he was responsible for killing Claire and leaving her lying in a pool of blood.

He told the court: “I’ve got that image in my mind and that’ll be it there for the rest of my life.

“When that poor lassie’s mum is sitting behind me and I hear her sobbing I’m racked with guilt.

“I’m no monster like folk make out, but that happened. I can’t take back what I done. I did grab that hammer.

“She had a mad look on her face and she was laughing. She was smiling that smug way that everybody else smiles at me.

“I can’t escape the violence that came out, but if anybody’s suggesting I intentionally took that lassie’s life I can honestly swear to God I did not mean to do that.”

He went on: “I honestly lost the plot. I struck her on the head. I wasn’t conscious of making a decision to do that. I wasn't in full control then. I shouldn’t even have been on the streets at that time.

“I walked into my doctors and said to them: ‘I’m going to end up killing someone. I shouldn’t be walking about the now.’ I was going insane.”

Donald immediately confessed in a phone call to his former boss, panel beater Paul Smith, 56.

Mr Smith told the court: “He told me he’d killed a woman. I said ‘Are you sure she’s dead?’ “He said: ‘Oh aye. She’s dead. I hit her a number of times with a hammer and there’s brain matter everywhere.’”

Shortly afterwards, police detained Donald and McMurdo at a bus stop round the corner from their flat with a holdall full of their clothing and belongings – along with a supermarket ‘bag for life’ containing the bloodstained hammer.

Claire’s partner Charles ‘Chick’ Weir, 39, said there was no truth in Donald’s claims that she had given a “sexual kiss” to and groped McMurdo during the all-day booze session he left shortly before the murder.

Gruesome images of the murder scene were shown in court.

Blood was spattered on the walls and ceiling – cast off from the hammer as Donald swung it eight times onto Claire’s head – and formed a large pool on the floor around her.

Forensic pathologist Dr Ian Wilkinson, who carried out the post mortem examination, said her skull had been beaten in with considerable force, causing severe injuries and meaning her survival time would have been “very short”.

He put the formal cause of death as blunt force trauma.

Friends of the dead woman, who was originally from Methil, described her as a “lost soul”, after a baby daughter became the victim of a cot death two years previously. She is survived by one daughter.