Cold-case jury told to treat daughter as an 'accomplice'
A JUDGE has advised a jury that the chief prosecution witness in a cold-case murder trial is to be viewed as "an accomplice".
Veronica McGrath gave evidence against her mother Vera McGrath and former husband Colin Pinder, whom she accused of beating her father to death, burying him in a shallow grave and subsequently digging him up and burning his remains in a bonfire.
Vera McGrath (61) has pleaded not guilty to murdering her husband, Bernard 'Brian' McGrath (43), at their home at Lower Coole, Co Westmeath, more than 23 years ago.
Mr Pinder (47), of Liverpool, England, has also pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on a date unknown between March 10 and April 18, 1987.
Giving evidence early in the trial, Veronica McGrath told the Central Criminal Court that when she first informed gardai of the incident in 1993, they told her she was "involved in a crime" to the extent that she had helped clean up the scene after her father's death.
In his charge to the jury yesterday, Mr Justice John Edwards said that "in the view of the court, she must be treated as an accomplice" because of this.
He said Veronica McGrath must be regarded as having acted as "an accessory after the fact", by virtue of her own evidence in cleaning up blood and mucus from the scene using a blue hairbrush supplied by her mother.
"Special care must be taken in analysing the reliability of an accomplice," he told the jury earlier, warning "it can be dangerous to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice".
However, he added that it was possible to do so if that witness was both "credible and reliable". He said there were certain things in Vera McGrath's statement that "are capable" of corroborating her daughter's testimony -- but whether she was corroborating was a matter for the jury.
Mr Justice Edwards told the jury that it was known that Mr McGrath had died, that he was buried in a shallow grave, was dug up and burned.
"None of that is at issue," he said. What is, however, is how he met his death and under what circumstances, he added.
He told the jury that they must leave "all biased prejudices outside the door" in reaching their verdicts, later urging them not to leave their "common sense outside the door".
And he stressed upon them the importance of viewing Mr Pinder and Vera McGrath as two separate trials, saying a joint trial had been conducted "for reasons of convenience and economy".
Three possible verdicts are open to the jury in the case of Vera McGrath -- murder, manslaughter or not guilty, he said. And in the case of Colin Pinder, only two are open -- murder or manslaughter since he has already pleaded guilty to the latter.
Meanwhile, the defence of provocation could provide "a partial defence for murder", he told them, though it was not a defence for manslaughter.
Mr Justice Edwards said the passage of considerable time since the events made the jury's job more difficult, with the death of a number of witnesses, including some investigating gardai, the loss of certain documents and a problem with witnesses' recollections, making it harder to satisfy the jury beyond all reasonable doubt.
The judge will continue his charge today when the jury may be sent out for deliberations.