Tuesday 17 July 2018

'Approach this case coldly, objectively and dispassionately' - Jury to begin deliberations in trial of Dayna Kearney

Dayna Kearney arrives at Naas Circuit Criminal Court for her
trial. Photo: Collins
Dayna Kearney arrives at Naas Circuit Criminal Court for her trial. Photo: Collins

Andrew Phelan

A JURY has begun deliberations in the trial of a young woman accused of dangerous driving causing the deaths of her four friends in a tragic road accident.

Judge Eoin Garavan told the seven women and five men they had to leave any sympathy they might have for either the crash victims’ families, or the driver Dayna Kearney (23) “at the door of the jury room.”

He said the jurors had to approach their deliberations “coldly, objectively and dispassionately.”

The jurors retired at 2.39pm to begin considering verdicts.

Judge Garavan was this afternoon giving his charge to the jury, summarising the evidence and providing instructions on legal issues.

The jurors were due to retire later to begin considering verdicts.

They had heard a day and a half of evidence in the trial at Kildare Circuit Court.

Ms Kearney, a student from Crossneen, Carlow who was herself seriously injured in the crash, denies dangerous driving causing death and driving a dangerously defective vehicle.

Her passengers, Gemma Nolan (19), Chermaine Carroll (20) and Niamh Doyle (19), from Carlow, and Aisling Middleton (19) from Athy were all killed "almost instantly" in the collision on the N78  at Burtown, near Athy, on January 6, 2015.

The five were returning from ice-skating in Kilkenny when the VW Polo Ms Kearney was driving veered across the road and crashed passenger side-on into an oncoming VW Transporter van.

It is the prosecution’s case that although her car was in sound mechanical condition, two tyres were not fully inflated and this along with the heavy load in the car caused it to swerve out of control.

There was evidence a tyre had gone flat from a slow puncture shortly before the crash and the defence maintained Ms Kearney could not have known about it, or corrected the car once it went out of control.

The defence also said there was evidence that she had taken reasonable care of her car.

Judge Garavan said it was a “particularly tragic case” and while all parties had “kept emotions out of this particular matter, of course it’s there.”

“This is a case in which four young ladies lost their lives and you will obviously have great sympathy for the enormous loss the families suffered,” he told the jury. “On the other hand you may have lots of sympathy for the accused who finds herself with amnesia, not being able to remember the facts but ultimately knowing she was the driver of a car in which four people lost their lives.”

“Ultimately, in order to do your job properly, you have to be cold, clinical, objective, dispassionate… you have to leave all these emotions at the door of the jury room.”

He told the jury to treat the two charges separately. It was clear nobody intended to go out and cause an accident, he said.

Ms Kearney had admitted she was driving with no valid NCT cert as it had expired, although there was evidence that she genuinely believed at the time that it was valid and she had “no reason to doubt” it.

She admitted she was on a provisional licence and there was no full licenced driver in the car. These were part of the background circumstances the jury could take into account and may well be offences themselves, but that was not before the court, he said.

The accused was not obliged to give evidence herself and no negative inference could be drawn from the fact that she did not, the judge continued.

To find her guilty of dangerous driving, he said, there had to be an element of some fault on her part.

He said there was “no speed, no drink, no drugs”, no evidence of any dangerous or careless driving previously on the journey or of any “high jinx” in the car.

On the condition of the car, the onus was on the prosecution to prove that if there was a defect, that the accused knew about it or if exercising reasonable prudence, she should have discovered it.

The jury could not convict on the basis of a “hidden defect”. It was known that Ms Kearney had a tyre changed some time before the accident but the mechanic did not look at the other tyres.

The jury had to consider what “pre-warning” she might have had from any pull on the car.

Not much was known about the rate of the tyre deflation, he said.

The test in the case, he said, was if the prosecution had proved Mr Kearney knew about the defect when she was driving, or if she could have discovered it by exercising ordinary care.

He said the burden of proof was on the prosecution and its case had to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

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