Conviction of nun for rape a miscarriage of justice
Ann O Loughlin FORMER nun Nora Wall, who was wrongfully convicted of raping a 10-year old girl, was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
The Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday certified that there had been a miscarriage of justice in the case of Ms Wall, formerly Sr Dominic, who was sentenced to life imprisonment six years ago.
Mr Justice Nicky Kearns, presiding, after hearing the four-hour-long application, said the three-judge court believed Ms Wall "should not have to wait a moment longer than necessary" to hear the court's decision.
The judge said newly discovered facts in the case included a crucial trial witness, Ms Patricia Phelan, who admitted to gardai and another nun that she had lied about having witnessed Ms Wall hold down a young girl while a man raped her.
Immediately after the court's decision, Ms Wall, with her hand outstretched, approached Ms Phelan. A tearful Ms Phelan threw her arms around Ms Wall and hugged her.
Earlier the court heard that the DPP accepted that, had he been aware, prior to the arrest and prosecution in the late 1990s of Ms Wall and the late Paul (Pablo) McCabe, of significant information which had since come to light, the prosecution could and would never have been brought.
That information included a statement by Ms Phelan of having lied about having witnessed Mr McCabe rape Regina Walsh, while she was being held down by Ms Wall in St Michael's child care centre, Cappoquin, Co Waterford.
Ms Phelan said that she had never witnessed such an event, that "it never happened" and that she had made it up to "get back" at Ms Wall, whom, she alleged had beaten her in the home.
The young woman who gave critical prosecution evidence at the trial of Nora Wall later told another nun: "It never happened."
Patricia Phelan (32), with an address in Kilkenny, was present at the Four Courts complex yesterday and came into the Court of Criminal Appeal after it directed she should be present to hear what was being said.
Yesterday's proceedings arose after the June 1999 convictions of Ms Wall and Mr McCabe were overturned a month later by the Court of Criminal Appeal with no opposition from the DPP. Both had been convicted of the rape of Regina Walsh on a date between January 1988 and December 1989, when the girl was 10 years of age and on an indecent assault charge. Mr McCabe was jailed for 12 years and Ms Wall was jailed for life.
In November 1999, the DPP accepted fully that Ms Wall and Mr McCabe were entitled to be presumed innocent of all charges brought against them and said then he would not be seeking a re-trial. The DPP also regretted "the errors" in the handling of the case by the prosecution.
Yesterday, counsel for Ms Wall, John Rogers SC, said "quite extraordinary" newly-discovered facts showed the 1999 trial of Ms Wall had resulted regrettably from "a forensic debacle" and was never the trial the DPP intended to have.
The defence had since 1999 come into possession of significant new evidence, including that the gardai had advised from 1997 that Ms Phelan, a crucial corroborative witness on whose evidence the jury relied to convict Ms Wall, was an unreliable witness. Although the DPP had directed she not be called as a witness, she was called through "inadvertence".
The defence had also learned just days after the trial that Ms Walsh had made a claim she was raped by a man in England .
Ms Phelan the judges were told yesterday was aware of the effect of, and "stands over", an April 2001 statement in which she admitted she had lied about witnessing Ms Regina Walsh being raped by Mr McCabe and being held down by Ms Wall.
Crying on the phone, she told Sr Mona Killeen : "It never happened". Three days later she told the nun she made "made up" claims to the effect that she had walked into Ms Walsh's bedroom and witnessed a rape.
Sr Mona contacted the gardai and Ms Phelan made what Counsel said was a "crucial statement" in which she said the first time Ms Walsh told her she had been raped by Paul McCabe in the presence of Nora Wall was about 1996 when Ms Walsh was about 18 years old. Ms Phelan said she did not know at that time Ms Walsh had made a statement to gardai.
Ms Phelan said Ms Walsh had said she was going to court and asked would Ms Phelan go with her.
Ms Phelan said she could not say if Ms Walsh had asked her to make a statement saying she had seen Paul McCabe rape her but she had made such a statement.
In her April 2001 statement, Ms Phelan said she "actually never saw this" but told the gardai the story as Ms Walsh had told her. "I made it sound as if I saw it."