Sunday 11 December 2016

Assisted suicide trial: Gail O’Rorke (43) found not guilty of helping friend take own life

Published 28/04/2015 | 15:35

Gail O’Rorke with her husband Barry at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she was found not guilty aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of Bernadette Forde. Pic: Courts Collins.
Gail O’Rorke with her husband Barry at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she was found not guilty aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of Bernadette Forde. Pic: Courts Collins.

A woman accused of attempting to help a friend with multiple sclerosis (MS) take her own life has been found not guilty at Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court.

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The trial of taxi driver Gail O'Rorke (43) heard that her friend Bernadette Forde's plan to end her life by travelling to Dignitas - a euthanasia clinic in Zurich - was thwarted in 2011 when a travel agent alerted gardai.

Supporters cheered in court and clapped as the not guilty verdict was read out in court.

Ms O'Rorke wept as the not guilty verdict was read by the court registrar.

In the first prosecution of its kind in Ireland, Ms O'Rorke of Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght,  was initially charged with three counts under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993.

The 22 year old law decriminalised the act of suicide but makes it an offence to assist or attempt to assist another person commit suicide.

Last Friday Judge McCartan directed that Ms O'Rorke  be found not guilty on two of three charges.

Ms O’Rorke remained accused of attempting to help her friend Bernadette Forde (51) travel to Zurich.

Ms O’Rorke denied attempting to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011.

The seven day trial heard that Ms Forde was forced to cancel her planned trip to the Zurich after the intervention of gardai who were alerted by a Dublin travel agency.

Tom Curran, partner of Marie Fleming, at the trial of Gail O’Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Pic: Courts Collins.
Tom Curran, partner of Marie Fleming, at the trial of Gail O’Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Pic: Courts Collins.
Tom Curran partner of Marie Fleming at the trial of Gail O’Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Pic: Courts Collins.

Read more: 'Thank you' - the words an emotional Gail O'Rorke whispered as she was acquitted

Ms Forde (51), who suffered with primary progressive MS for 10 years - and whose condition was aggravated by injuries sustained in a 2008 car accident - ended her life in June 2011 by taking a lethal dose of medication bought on the internet.

Ms O'Rorke, who was both a friend and carer of Ms Forde, was warned by gardai it would be an offence to travel with her friend to Zurich.

She was later charged with attempting to assist a suicide for making those travel arrangements.

Charging the jury on Monday at Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court, Judge McCartan said that that Gail O'Rorke is a "faithful, honest and decent woman" who faced an "immense dilemma".

But the judge told the jury of six men and six women that the case was not about emotion.

"You must be fair, you must be objective" said Judge McCartan, who said that while the facts are the jurors' responsibility, it is not open to them make up the law themselves.

Last Friday the jury were ordered to find Gail O'Rorke not guilty on two of the three charges against her.

Following legal argument, Judge McCartan ordered the jury to acquit Ms O’Rorke of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico which were later taken by Bernadette Forde (51) to end her life.

Bernadette Forde
Bernadette Forde

The judge also told the jury of six men and six women to find Ms O’Rorke not guilty of “procuring” the suicide of her friend by helping to organise her funeral before her death.

At the outset of his charge to the jury last Monday, Judge McCartan urged jurors to bring common sense and their everyday experience to their deliberations.

"Experience of life is important when it comes to assessing the facts of the case," said the judge.

The jurors retired just after 11am last Monday morning after Judge McCartan addressed them and summed up the cases for the prosecution and defence.

In his charge, Judge McCartan said that the State contends that the facts in the trial are not in dispute and that the case revolves around the making of travel arrangements with a travel agent for the Zurich trip.

He said that Ms O’Rorke told the travel agent the purpose of the trip to Zurich and as a result was “caught red handed” by gardaí. He said if she had been more discreet, perhaps taking a more indirect route to Zurich, “all of this might have been avoided.”

The judge said the defence case is that Ms O’Rorke’s actions are “too remote” from the suicide itself to legally constitute aiding and abetting. He also said the defence contend that Ms O’Rorke lacked any criminal intent in booking the tickets.

Referring to the accused’s claim that she didn’t know she was committing an offence, Judge McCartan told the jury that “ignorance of the law is not a defence.”

Regarding the defence argument that gardaí did not investigate an offence after stopping Ms O’Rorke and Ms Forde from travelling, Judge McCartan said the gardaí were perfectly entitled to do this.

He said it was the entitlement of gardaí “to go down the humanitarian route” after thwarting the travel plans and to investigate the matter later after the completed suicide of Ms Forde.

The judge told the jury that Ms O’Rorke is entitled to the presumption of innocence and that no inference should be taken from her not giving evidence. He said that where a doubt arose in fact, the jury should give the benefit of the doubt to the accused.

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