Thursday 30 March 2017

Charges for woman's murder dropped due to technicality

Dearbhail McDonald and Eimear Ni Bhraonain

MURDER charges against two Lithuanian men who stood trial for the killing of a mother of two have been dramatically dropped because of a legal technicality.

The charred remains of Rebecca French (30) were found in the boot of a burning car on October 9 last year.

Two men, Ruslanas Mineikas (25) and Ricardas Dilys (27), were charged with Ms French's murder.

Two other men, Patrick O'Connor and Piotr Pasiak, pleaded guilty to impeding the garda investigation before the murder trial got under way earlier this month at the Central Criminal Court.

But yesterday, lawyers acting for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said the DPP decided not to prosecute Mineikas and Dilys for murder because of difficulties over the men's detention in garda custody.

This is despite the prosecution's claims at the outset of the trial that Dilys hit Ms French over the head with a golf club and Mineikas kicked and stamped on her ribs.

The murder charges, which were denied by the pair, were dropped after trial judge Mr Justice Barry White ruled last week, in the absence of the jury, that statements obtained from the men were taken when they were unlawfully detained.

Both men have now pleaded guilty to disposing of Ms French's body and impeding the prosecution; all four men will be sentenced next month.

Gardai are not and will not be looking for anyone else in connection with Ms French's death and nobody will now be prosecuted for her murder.

Discharging the jurors from jury service for life, Judge White said that "as of this moment" it would be inappropriate for him to pass any comment in relation to the evidence. But he added: "No doubt you'll form your own opinions and conclusions."

Family members of the late Ms French broke down in court last week when Judge White ruled Mineikas and Dilys were not in lawful detention when certain statements were made to investigating gardai.

The statements, obtained after a local GP certified that the two men were unfit for interview as they had consumed alcohol -- without specifying an exact period during which they could not be interviewed -- were ruled inadmissible at trial.

Alcohol

The men's questioning was suspended after gardai requested that they be assessed by a doctor, as custody records indicated that both men had consumed alcohol.

Gardai relied on new laws introduced last year to assist them in dealing with suspects under the influence of alcohol or drugs who are not fit for questioning but do not require hospitalisation.

The men's detention was suspended following the doctor's examination. The initial period of detention expired at 11.45pm on the night of the arrest.

Judge White ruled that the interview suspension period as certified by a doctor could not exceed six hours.

He ruled that any evidence gleaned from interviews after 11.45pm on the night the men were arrested was obtained unlawfully and in breach of their constitutional rights.

The eight-day trial heard that on the afternoon of October 9 last year, gardai were alerted to a car on fire at Codd's Lane, a few kilometres outside Wexford town.

On their way to the scene, gardai met the four men walking from the vicinity of the car fire. They said they had been visiting someone.

Other gardai happened to be at O'Connor's house in Ard Na Dara, Clonard, Wexford around this time. They were trying to serve a summons on somebody at the house in an unrelated matter, but got no reply.

Ms French's body was soon found in the boot of her car. All four men were found in the house, along with another person, to be tried next year with impeding the investigation.

Mineikas and Dilys were arrested for Ms French's murder. Bloodstained clothes and golf clubs were seized from the house along with a large amount of jewellery. The DNA profile of the blood on the golf clubs matched the victim's.

Irish Independent

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