Sunday 24 September 2017

Jury in assisted suicide case 'entitled to consider majority verdict'

Gail O'Rorke
Gail O'Rorke
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The jury in the trial of a woman accused of attempting to help a friend with multiple sclerosis (MS) take her own life have been directed that they are entitled to consider a majority verdict.

The trial of taxi driver Gail O'Rorke (43) heard that the plan to travel to Dignitas, a euthanasia clinic in Zurich, was thwarted in 2011 when a travel agent alerted gardai.

Yesterday the jury of six men and six women were told they must reach a unanimous verdict, but failed to do so after more than three and a half hours of deliberations.

This morning trial Judge Patrick McCartan told the jury they may reach a majority verdict, where at least 10 of the 12 jurors must agree.

Jurors must deliberate for at least two hours on a unanimous verdict, Judge McCartan told the jurors, urging them to aim for unanimity despite now being offered a majority option.

Judge McCartan also urged the jury to "take your time" in respect of their deliberations.

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 a suicide.

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

Ms O’Rorke remains 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.

Ms Forde (51), who suffered with primary progressive MS for 10 years - and whose condition was aggravated by injuries sustained in a 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 yesterday 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 to 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.

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 the charge, the judge urged the jury 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 this morning after McCartan addressed them and summed up the cases for the prosecution and defence.

He told jurors 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.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News