Jury in mum's double murder trial warned to keep open mind
Published 02/03/2011 | 05:00
A jury which will decide whether a former teacher is guilty of murdering her husband and her lover's wife must keep an open mind, the judge said last night.
Defence barrister Paul Ramsey warned against a miscarriage of justice as the trial of Hazel Stewart (48) drew to an end.
The jury of nine men and three women at Coleraine Crown Court is due to consider its verdict today.
Mr Justice Anthony Hart said: "Don't arrive with your minds made up already. I am sure you won't do that."
Prosecutors have insisted the killings of their spouses was a joint enterprise, a plan executed by dentist Colin Howell and Ms Stewart to rid themselves of their respective partners for them to be together.
The judge stressed that the legal definition of a joint enterprise between Ms Stewart and Howell did not mean that Ms Stewart had to commit the murders, only that she was part of the plan to carry them out.
"The word plan does not mean there had to be formal agreement about what's to be done; a plan could be made on the spur of moment, with a nod, wink or knowing look. Put simply, the question for you is were they in it together?"
Ms Stewart, a mother of two from Ballystrone Road, Maco- squin, Coleraine, who denies the two murders, sat impassively in the dock yesterday.
Her then husband, PC Trevor Buchanan (32), and Lesley Howell (31), the wife of her lover, were found dead in a car filled with carbon monoxide fumes in a garage behind a row of houses known as the Twelve Apostles in the seaside town of Castlerock, Co Derry, in May 1991.
At first, police thought they had died in a suicide pact because of the distress over their spouses' affair.
It was only when Howell (51) first confessed in January 2009 that he had murdered them that Ms Stewart was arrested by investigating detectives.
Howell, a father of 10 from Glebe Road, Castlerock, is serving a 21-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to the murders.
He first gassed his wife as she slept on the sofa of their home in Coleraine. He then drove her body to the far side of the town, where he murdered Mr Buchanan by the same method before taking the two bodies away to stage-manage the suicide.
According to the prosecution, Ms Stewart took actions, including making sure no car was in the garage when Howell pulled up at the house with his wife's body in the boot, ensuring her husband was drugged asleep and setting out clothes to dress his body in afterwards.