Monday 18 December 2017

Accused helped killer with acts that 'required effort, concentration and thought', court told

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin

Alison O' Riordan

The acts of a man charged with impeding a homicide investigation “required effort, concentration and thought” and the issue of duress “does not stack up” in this case, a prosecution barrister has told a trial jury.

Mr Patrick Gageby SC, prosecuting, today gave his closing speech in the trial of Aivars Sondors (55), who is charged with three counts of assisting an offender on September 9 or 10 2013 by impeding the apprehension or prosecution of Marius Gaizutis, knowing or believing him to have unlawfully killed Audrius Butkus (44).

The particulars include moving the body from a house on Marsh Road in Drogheda and placing it in the sea at Mornington Beach; cleaning up the scene at Marsh Road; and disposing of carpet, clothing, a nail brush, bin bag, bottles and tins from the scene at Burke House, Mathew’s Lane, Drogheda.

Mr Sondors of Sycamore Close, Termon Abbey in Drogheda, but originally from Latvia, has admitted the three allegations against him, but has
pleaded not guilty to all three counts. His barrister has indicated that the issue for the jury to decide would be whether there had been duress.

The Central Criminal Court jury of eight men and four women has previously heard that Gaizutis was convicted of the murder of Mr Butkus on May 1, 2015.

Addressing the jury today, Mr Gageby said there was no doubt that Gaizutis murdered Mr Butkus and that what Mr Sondors did on September 9 was directed at helping the killer.

Outlining the evidence, counsel said that there was a “savage assault” on Mr Butkus in the basement of the house on the night. The barrister said that none of Mr Sondors “acts of assistance” were done “in an instant”. He said what the accused did for Gaizutis that night “required effort, concentration and thought.”

Mr Gageby said there were two things for the jury to get over in this case in order to convict; duress and whether there was reasonable excuse.

Counsel said duress, the central issue in the case, involved a threat of immediate death or serious personal injury so great as to overbear
ordinary human resistance which must be operative at the time of the crime. It applied where the accused acted as he did due to threats made against him or a third party.

The barrister said the prosecution had to disprove duress and show it did not stand up. “In this case, we say there is no threat expressed
or implied by Mr Gaizutis to the accused nor to his loved ones,” he said.

Mr Gageby said Gaizutis was clearly drunk on the night, while Mr Sondors was not. Gaizutis needed Mr Sondors help to move the victim’s
body “at a minimum” and he got that help, he said. The court heard that Mr Gaizutis had “very good reason” to be nice to Mr Sondors as he was asking him to dump a body, help him clean up evidence and dump materials at Burke House. Gaizutis was also smaller than Mr Sondors,
he said.

“I ask you the very plain question, where is the threat? It isn’t in it. There may be plenty of apprehension on the part of the accused but there is no threat,” said Mr Gageby.

Counsel pointed to the fact that Mr Sondors “stonewalled” and lied throughout his four interviews when he was in custody. He also said
even when gardaí put it to to the accused that his blood-stained fingerprint was found on a handrail at the killing scene this did not
cause him to tell the truth.

Mr Gageby reminded the jury that Mr Sondors told gardaí that he understood it would be dangerous to refuse to move the victim's body.
“That is not a threat of serious injury or death,” he said.

He said that despite Mr Sondors knowing that Gaizutis was a bully, he still moved into the house at Marsh Road with his partner which had an
attractive rent. “Does that suggest a state of fear, I suggest not,” he said. Counsel said the issue of duress does not stack up in this
case.

The court heard that if the jury agree with the prosecution that duress is “not in the mix”, they will have to consider the question of
whether the accused had reasonable excuse for doing what he did.

Mr Colman Fitzgerald SC, defending, told the jurors in his closing speech that their sole focus should be not on what Mr Sondors did but
why he did it. He said his client was acting under duress and had reasonable excuse for what he did on the night.

Mr Fitzgerald told the court that the crucial evidence against Mr Sondors was collected when he returned to Drogheda Garda Station on
September 15 and decided to tell the truth. He said his client was not somebody who was out “to save his own skin” and he did not have to say
anything. “He could have sat in the garda station and said nothing, where would the prosecution have been then?” he said. He said his
client was “honest” and “candid.”

The barrister said that it was not “improbable nor ludicrous” that Mr Sondors thought he would end up being charged with killing Mr Butkus.

In conclusion, Mr Fitzgerald told the jury that Mr Sondors was not a “willing participant” in the aftermath of the “horrific killing” and
there was an “external basis” of why he apprehended what he did. He also said the “absolute horror” of the situation in which he found
himself was through no fault of his own.

Mr Justice Paul Coffey will begin charging the jury tomorrow before they commence their deliberations.

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