Tuesday 20 February 2018

Judge orders jury to acquit Gail O’Rorke of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates taken by Bernadette Forde

Gail O'Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she has pleaded not guilty.
Gail O'Rorke at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court where she has pleaded not guilty.

By Conor Gallagher

The jury in the trial of a woman accused of helping her friend take her own life has been ordered to find her not guilty on two of the three charges against her due to a lack of evidence.

Following legal argument at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Patrick McCartan ordered the jury to acquit Gail O’Rorke (43) of ordering a lethal dose of barbiturates from Mexico which were later taken by Bernadette Forde (51) to end her life.

The judge also told the jury of six men and six women to find Ms O’Rorke not guilty of “procuring” the suicide of her friend by helping to organise her funeral before her death.

Ms O’Rorke remains accused of attempting to help Ms Forde get to the Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas, a plan that was thwarted when the travel agent alerted gardaí.

Judge McCartan told jurors that he was ordering not guilty verdicts in the final two charges because he agreed with the defence’s argument that the prosecution has not produced enough evidence for the counts to go before a jury.

Both parties have made their closing speeches and the jury will begin their deliberations on Monday after being addressed by Judge McCartan.

Bernadette Forde
Bernadette Forde

The defence contend that Ms O’Rorke cannot be guilty of attempting to do something that never happened. Counsel asked jurors to “go in there, write the words 'not guilty’, come back out and send her home.”

The prosecution has told jurors that they might not feel good about returning a guilty verdict but that it is up to the Oireachtas and not them to decide what is and isn’t illegal.

Ms O’Rorke (43), a taxi driver from Kilclare Gardens, Tallaght has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to aiding and abetting the suicide of Ms Forde by helping her to procure and administer a toxic substance between April 20, 2011 and June 6, 2011 at a location in Dublin.

She also denied that she attempted to aid and abet the suicide of Ms Forde by means of attempting to arrange travel to Zurich, Switzerland for such purpose between March 10 and April 20, 2011 and that she procured the suicide of Ms Forde between June 4 and June 6, 2011 by means of making funeral arrangements for Ms Forde in advance of her death.

Prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC told the jury in his address that the prosecution case “in a nutshell” is that Ms O’Rorke attempted to assist in the suicide of Ms Forde by booking the tickets to Zurich with Rathgar Travel.

He said it makes no difference that gardaí foiled the plan and that Ms Forde or Ms O’Rorke never got to Switzerland.

Mr Farrell referred to a defence argument that 85 percent of people who travel to Dignitas don’t go through with an assisted suicide. He said that it “entirely irrelevant” whether Ms Forde went through with the act when she got there and that the argument was “a red herring” thrown up by the defence to distract jurors.

The prosecuting counsel said he was “not for a moment” suggesting that Ms O’Rorke was badgering or encouraging her friend to commit suicide and that, on the contrary, she was trying to talk her out of it.

“Gail O’Rorke is an exceptionally decent person,” Mr Farrell said. “There can be no doubt that everything she did was informed out of loyalty, out of love, for Ms Forde. I want to be entirely clear that the prosecution do not for a moment suggest otherwise.”

Counsel said Ms O’Rorke’s claim that she did not know she was committing an offence when booking the tickets is not relevant as “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

He also told jurors they are here to deal with the accused. He said they shouldn’t question why other people who assisted Ms Forde are not before the courts.

Mr Farrell said that every single person who has listened to the case including the judge, lawyers, journalists and members of the public, have asked themselves the same question: “What would I do if I were in Gail O’Rorke’s position.”

He said that unlike robbery or murder trials, “one has to face up to the very simple reality is perhaps a large number of you would be of the view that you would have done what Ms O’Rorke did.

“However you are not being asked to consider if you would have done the same thing or not,” he continued.

He said the defence hopes jurors will ignore the law and just go with their gut.

“You don’t get to determine what the law is and what the law should be,” Mr Farrell added. “The verdict is clear.”

In his closing speech defence counsel Dermott McGuinness SC said the prosecution are asking jurors to criminalise the conduct of “an exceptionally good woman.”

Quoting established law on “aiding and abetting” offences, counsel said they “normally refer to an offender who is present or nearby at the time of the commission of the offence.”

Counsel  asked how Ms O’Rorke could have aided and abetted something that never happened. Ms Forde never travelled to Zurich and that even if she had, that doesn’t mean she would have committed suicide there.

“Flying to Switzerland isn’t suicide or attempted suicide,” he said.

“Did you ever think that you could go into a travel agents and book a flight and try and get the tickets and wind up on the wrong end of an indictment? Could you believe that?”

Mr McGuinness asked if a taxi driver who drove Ms Forde to the airport in the knowledge of her plans would be guilty of an offence. He asked would the air hostess or pilot who flew her to Zurich also be guilty of an offence if they happened to know her intentions.

“I’m asking you, when you get the opportunity to consider the evidence, go in there, write the words ‘not guilty’, come back out and send her home.”

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