Thursday 23 November 2017

Elderly man (63) died as a result of asphyxia, murder trial hears

Gardai and forensic officers at the scene at Cambridge Court, Dublin.
Gardai and forensic officers at the scene at Cambridge Court, Dublin.

Anne Sharkey

The jury in the trial of a brother and sister accused of murdering a 63-year-old man has heard that the deceased died as a result of asphyxia at his home in January 2014.

Kenneth Cummins (28) and Sabrina Cummins (37), with an address at Ringsend Park, Dublin 4, have both pleaded not guilty to murdering Thomas Horan (63) at Cambridge Court, Ringsend on January 6th last year. 

Taking to the stand at the Central Criminal Court today State Pathologist Professor Marie Therese Cassidy told counsel for the prosecution, Mr Remy Farrell SC that there were signs of asphyxia when she first examined Mr Horan.

"I found minor bruises and abrasions on the face, neck, upper trunk, arms and legs," she said.

"There were signs of asphyxia and his face was red and congested. It had a deep red colouring and the white of the eye was congested. These are indications that somebody has been asphyxiated. That may well be the cause of death," she continued.

Professor Cassidy added that such signs can appear in people who die from natural causes such as a heart attack but that haemorrhaging would suggest there was something blocking the neck.

"I noted above the right eyebrow there was a superficial abrasion. On the right side of the forehead there were three parallel linear scratches running down which would appear to be possible fingernail scratches," she said.

"The area above the adams apple had an area of reddening. It had the appearance of a burn or chemical burn. Something like white spirits could have caused this," she said.

Professor Cassidy said that Mr Horans death would have been rapid.

"There is no evidence to suggest Mr H had lived unconscious for any length of time - he had become hypoxic and had died fairly rapidly due to becoming hypoxic. Mr Horan's death was fairly rapid," she said.

She continued: "His left cheekbone was fractured and the cheekbone was detached from the skull. This would require force from either a punch or a heavy fall onto the face."

"When dissected, I noted there were fractures of the right second to ninth ribs. The left second to fourth ribs were not completely fractured through. There were also fractures of the left eighth to tenth ribs," she said.

"I noted fluid in his airways consistent with him inhaling gastric fluid - he had vomited and some of it had gone back into his airways," she added.

"This man was found dead within his home. Externally, he had relatively minor bruises and abrasions. However, internally there was more intensive injuries," she said.

"He had a fractured cheekbone and 14 fractured ribs. The pattern of trauma would indicate an assault involving blows to the head and chest as well as strangulation," she said.

"Such injuries could cause a period of concussion. Asphyxia signs were consistent with hypoxia," she said.

The two possibilities were neck compression or strangulation or chest trauma," she said.

"The principal cause of death was asphyxia," she said.

Under cross examination by Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC for Kenneth Cummins, Professor Cassidy confirmed that there were no signs suggesting that white spirits had entered Mr Horans mouth.

"In relation to the white spirits, your investigations indicated there was no sign of it in blood stream," he said.

"If that was the fluid, I would have seen changes at the mouth," replied Professor Cassidy.

Taking to the stand earlier today, Garda Darren Coughlan, who had been operating a patrol car with a colleague on January 6th, told Remy Farrell SC prosecuting that he responded to a call at 5am.

"A woman rang to say she found her friend dead," he said. 

Upon arrival, Gda Coughlan said he was approached by Sabrina Cummins.

"Sabrina Cummins, dressed in black clothing, approached us and identified herself as the caller," he said.

"She was in a very agitated state and she kept repeating to me: 'Is he dead is he dead'."

He added: "I spoke about Tom Horans health and she stated he was quite healthy and that he was a tee total and he didn't smoke or drink."

Taking to the stand, Micheál Carroll of Dublin Fire Brigade told Mr Farrell that when he arrived at the home of the deceased, he found Mr Horan in a foetal position.

"Visibility was very poor and without a torch, I couldn't see where casualty was," he said.

"He (Mr Horan) was between the bed and a cluttered cabinet to my left as I entered the room. He was hunched up in a foetal position - there was a jacket on the top of him," he continued.

"I had to remove it to examine him - it was unusual - it seemed like it was placed there rather than had fallen there," he said.

"I checked for pulse and checked to see if he was breathing - both were absent.

He had a deathly pallor and there was a bluey grey colour to him - it would mean he would have been deprived of oxygen for some time at some stage," he said.

"It was beyond any help we could provide," he concluded.

Taking to the stand, Sergeant Peter Holmes told Mr Farrell that he was met by Sabrina Cummins when he arrived at 5.14am.

"She (Sabrina Cummins) introduced herself as Sabrina," he said.

"She wanted to know what happened to Tom - said she wanted to go in and see him - she was quite insistent," he said.

"I asked her what her relationship was to him. She said he was a good friend and that he fostered her years ago," he continued.

When asked when she had last seen him, the court heard that the accused said 7.30pm the previous evening.

"She said herself and her brother Kenny had called to get dvds that she had lent to him (Tom Horan) at 4.30am - she said she looked in the window and seen him," he said.

Sergeant Holmes said that when he entered the house, the scene was "messy".

"Inside the door to the left was the body of a male. The house was quite a mess. There was a lot of items on the floor - there was a smell of white spirits - it was a messy scene," he said.

Sergeant Holmes confirmed that Professor Anthony Hooper arrived on the scene at 5.50am.

"I explained (to Dr Hooper) what we had found and the way the matter had been reported. I wasn't happy with the way the matter had been reported - it could possibly be a suspicious death," he said.

"(Dr Hooper)  pronounced him dead at 6.20am. He said it would be best to have the body removed and to preserve the scene," he concluded.

The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Tony Hunt and a jury of seven women and five men.

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