Sunday 30 April 2017

Anne Shortall could have been alive after nine blows to the head with a hammer, court hears

Roy Webster and Anne Shortall
Roy Webster and Anne Shortall

Andrew Phelan

Anne Shortall could not have survived having her head bound in duct tape if she had still been alive after being beaten with a hammer, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy said she could not establish whether the mother-of-three survived the “multiplicity of blows” to her head, but the taping over of her whole face “excluded all possibility of surviving the head injuries.”

Prof Cassidy also said the head injuries alone could have caused death, which was “probably fairly rapid” after Ms Shortall was injured.

She said there were nine blows and found the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and obstruction to the airways.

Prof Cassidy was giving evidence for the prosecution in the trial of Roy Webster, who denies murdering Ms Shortall.

Previously, the jury heard he told gardai in interview that he wrapped Ms Shortall’s head and wrists in duct tape after hitting her “three or four times” with a claw hammer.

Mr Webster (40), a father-of-two, from Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow denies murdering Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter but that plea was not accepted by the prosecution.

The jury has been told he hit her with a hammer after he she blackmailed him by threatening to “reveal all” about a one-night stand they had.

He said he struck her about the head when she made the threat after saying she was pregnant and asked him to pay £6,500 for an abortion.

In her evidence, Prof Cassidy said she saw Ms Shortall’s body in the accused’s workshop on April 7.

It had been hidden behind sheets of plywood and was against a shelving unit. She was stretched out, face up. Duct tape had been wound around her head and her wrists were bound at the front of the body.

Her hair was matted with blood and there was blood on the floor around the head area, she said.

A post mortem examination was carried out at Loughlinstown Hospital on April 8, the next day.

Ms Shortall’s head was wrapped with silver coloured tape from chin to forehead, concealing the face and obstructing the nose and mouth. The tape around the wrists also covered the sleeves of her jacket.

The body was fully clothed apart from a missing right shoe. Her jeans were pulled down around the hip area, consistent with the body having been dragged over a rough area.

Ms Shortall had sustained nine blows to the head with a moderately heavy object with a small striking surface, Prof Cassidy said.

This resulted in lacerations to the scalp and face, including injuries to her left ear, which was split.

The nine blows resulted in five to the top of the head consistent with hammer blows, another along the right ear, extensive trauma to her left ear, with at least one blow or maybe more, one at the outer end of her left eyebrow and the last above her chin.

There were also other superficial injuries and bruises, including bruises and abrasions to the hands that Prof Cassidy said could have been “defensive-type” injuries or from “striking out.”

The skull, which was thicker than average, was uninjured and had not been fractured.

There was slight swelling to the brain but no evidence of direct injury and she was otherwise healthy.

The lungs were congested and “very full of blood”. There was no evidence of a pregnancy.

“The multiplicity of forceful blows to the head could have caused rapid concussion or unconsciousness,” Prof Cassidy said.

She told the jury this could cause death but was also “compatible with continued life.”

Bruises to the neck showed Ms Shortall “may have been gripped or grabbed by the neck” but  there was “no evidence of a sustained attempt at strangulation.”

She said the duct tape was most likely applied after the assault as it would be difficult to apply if someone was conscious. It was not possible to determine if the tape was applied when Ms Shortall was still alive, she said.

“It can’t be excluded that death was due to head injuries alone,” Prof Cassidy said of the head bindings.

“If they were applied while she was still alive this would have excluded all possibility of surviving the head injury, “ Prof Cassidy said of the head bindings.

“The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and obstruction of the airways,” Prof Cassidy concluded.

Cross-examined by Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, she said a claw hammer produced as an exhibit was consistent with the injuries.

The lacerations she described could have bled copiously and she would have expected pooling of blood below the head if the body was lying on the ground.

She agreed that when the tape was applied Ms Shortall was “probably unconscious” but she could not tell if she had passed away or not.

Earlier, parts of the accused’s garda interviews were played back to the jury and Detective Sergeant Fergus O’Brien was cross-examined on it by Mr Grehan.

Memos of the interviews had already been read out to the jury by Det Sgt O’Brien.

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