Technology played a crucial role in two high-profile convictions
Published 12/05/2015 | 02:30
It's a strange coincidence that one notorious murderer should lodge a last-minute appeal against his conviction on the same day that another loses a court challenge to his sentence of life imprisonment.
Apart from the timing, there are striking similarities between the cases of Joe O'Reilly and Graham Dwyer.
O'Reilly was convicted of battering his wife, Rachel, to death at their home in the Naul in north county Dublin on October 4, 2004.
He had struck her up to nine times with a blunt weapon in the main bedroom of their house.
Since his conviction in the central criminal court in July 2007, O'Reilly has made three appeals to the courts to have the decision overturned and, on each occasion, has been unsuccessful.
He lost his initial appeal against conviction in 2009 and again in 2012 he failed to have the decision quashed after arguing his detention in the Midlands Prison was illegal.
His third challenge, dismissed yesterday, was taken on the basis of a miscarriage of justice on the grounds of new or newly discovered facts.
Now that Dwyer has headed down the appeals route, it is worth recalling that both were high-profile cases that were notable for capturing the attention of the nation in a way that few other criminal investigations and subsequent trials had achieved.
Gardaí made massive efforts to pursue every possible lead and employ every technological aid available to them in their quest to ensure justice was done on behalf of the victims and their families.
But it was the mobile phone evidence that formed a crucial element of the case against both accused.
Experts in the Dwyer case found evidence of nearly 5,000 texts sent back and forth between him and Elaine O'Hara between January 2008 and the night she was killed, including 64 on the day she disappeared.
In the texts, Dwyer repeatedly referred to a sadistic and perverted fantasy he had to stab a woman to death, suggesting various potential victims.
But he always returned to Elaine O'Hara with his fantasies and in the end he was linked to his victim by a phone examined by crime analyst Sarah Skedd after it had been recovered from the Vartry reservoir in Roundwood, Co Wickow.
She made the breakthrough after painstakingly trawling through data on mobile phone cell sites and toll booths as he travelled on journeys outside Dublin.
In the Rachel O'Reilly murder, gardaí were able to disprove an alibi claim by her husband, Joe, that he was at the bus depot in Broadstone in north Dublin city at the time of her killing.
Rachel was said to have died at around 9.41am, shortly after she had returned home from taking the children to school.
But evidence was given which proved that his mobile communicated with a phone mast, a short distance from the couple's home, at 9.25am and again at 9.52am.
Former Assistant Garda Commissioner Martin Donnellan, who was one of the lead investigators, said afterwards that much of the evidence against O'Reilly had been circumstantial but "what really put the case to bed" was the details of the whereabouts of his mobile phone during the crucial time period that Rachel had been murdered.
It was the first time that such evidence had been accepted by the courts.
And as was shown subsequently in the Dwyer case, it became a landmark decision for future criminal investigations.