Family criticism threatens 'body in boot' sentencing
'Xenophobic' victim impact remarks sent to DPP
Published 01/12/2010 | 05:00
THE sentencing hearing of four men charged in connection with the death of a young woman whose remains were found in the boot of a burning car almost collapsed yesterday.
It followed controversial remarks made by her family in a victim impact statement.
Mr Justice Barry White, who had been due to sentence the four men for disposing of and attempting to destroy the body of mother-of-two Rebecca French, sought the DPP's opinion on his ability to continue with the sentence hearing.
The judge sought the DPP's opinion after the dead woman's sister read out an unapproved victim impact statement which called for foreign nationals with criminal records in their own country to be refused permission to live in Ireland.
Rebecca French was found dead in the boot of her burning car on October 9, 2009 on the outskirts of Wexford town. The State believes she was beaten to death beforehand in the house of one of the defendants at Ard Na Dara, Clonard.
Two Lithuanian men, a Polish man and an Irish man have pleaded guilty to impeding the investigation into the killing.
But the judge adjourned the sentence hearing after the French family expressed anger at the failure to prosecute anyone for the killing.
Last Monday Rachel French, the sister of Rebecca French, criticised the exclusion -- owing to a legal technicality -- of certain statements made by two men who were charged with the young woman's murder.
The inadmissability of the statements taken in garda custody from Lithuanian defendants Ricardas Dilys (28) and Ruslanas Mineikas (26) of Goodtide Harbour and formerly of Davitt Road South, both in Wexford town, led to the murder charges being withdrawn.
The other men, Patrick O'Connor (41) of Ard Na Dara, Clonard, Wexford and 27-year-old Polish man Piotr Pasiak of Lower John Street in Wexford had already pleaded guilty to impeding the investigation and were never on trial for murder.
In her wide-ranging statement Rachel French declared that, to the French family, everyone who was in the house where the authorities believe Rebecca died "were murderers, no exceptions".
"Justice in Ireland is sleeping while its people are dying," Ms French told the Central Criminal Court.
"People with criminal records in their own country should never be allowed to live among us," she said, referring to Mineikas and Dilys's previous convictions in Lithuania.
"The country has enough to deal with," she added.
It was powerful stuff but, like Majella Holohan before them, the statement crossed the line, leading Mr Justice Barry White to query whether he should recuse himself from the case.
Such statements have become an important touchstone for families and for some it is their only opportunity to participate in the trial and humanise their loved ones.
But they can not, no matter how deeply motivated or informed by understandable grief, be used to subvert the trial process, imperfect as it is.
Yesterday the judge said he had not seen the report before it was read in court and now required the DPP to see it and express his view on its contents. He noted that it contained criticisms of either the DPP, the Minister for Justice or himself.
Acknowledging the grief of the French family, Judge White described their statement as offensive; inappropriate; xenophobic; and lacking an appreciation of the presumption of innocence, the concept of joint enterprise and judicial function. He said that if he were to proceed to sentence, he could be seen to be influenced by it.
"Justice might not be seen to be done ... particularly by non-nationals, having regard to the xenophobic nature of some of the comments," he added.
Judge White explained that if there was an appeal on the severity of the sentence the victim impact report would be produced. He adjourned the matter until next month for the DPP's decision.