Saturday 17 March 2018

Murder case should not be dropped, says former pathologist

Former deputy state pathologist Kahlod Jaber
Former deputy state pathologist Kahlod Jaber
State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A former deputy state pathologist is standing over his controversial handling of a murder case that will not now go ahead after a High Court ruling.

Dr Khalid Jaber (57) made the comments after the court prohibited a retrial of the case amid concerns he had not complied with normal practice and failed to ensure his findings were peer-reviewed.

However, the Saudi-born forensic pathologist insisted he had acted correctly and said peer review was not a contractual term of his employment.

Dr Jabber criticised State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy for intervening in the case.

He also urged the family of the victim, father-of-two Patrick Connors, to challenge the High Court's decision.

"The family should appeal as the ruling is not credible," Dr Jaber told the Irish Independent.

Mr Connors (37) was killed at an apartment complex in Enniscorthy, Wexford, in April 2011.

The subsequent trial of the man accused of his murder, Michael Furlong (37), collapsed in November 2013 following a dispute over Dr Jaber's evidence.

Prof Cassidy dramatically intervened in the case after hearing some of Dr Jaber's evidence. She expressed a number of concerns in a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, leading to the trial's collapse.

Dr Jaber resigned later that month and it emerged he had been involved in a row with Prof Cassidy, during which he wrote letters to the Department of Justice and professional bodies suggesting she was not sufficiently qualified.

Mr Furlong's lawyers subsequently brought High Court judicial review proceedings seeking to prohibit a retrial.

Yesterday, President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns granted the prohibition order, saying the court "cannot imagine how the difficulties surrounding the pathology evidence might be addressed, let alone resolved" in a retrial.

Mr Justice Kearns said it must have been a shock to the DPP to learn Dr Jaber had not complied with normal practice and instruction that his report for the Furlong case should have been peer-reviewed by others in the State Pathologist's office.

But Dr Jaber, who is now working abroad, criticised the ruling.

He insisted the judge should have allowed a retrial so that whatever concerns existed could be dealt with.

The absence of a peer review came to light as a result of Prof Cassidy hearing the last few minutes of Dr Jaber's cross-examination. She said what she heard "was sufficient to cause me some concern".

She wrote to the DPP in what Mr Justice Kearns said was "a dramatic intervention", as a result of which the jury was discharged and the case listed for retrial.

Outlining the background to the case, Mr Justice Kearns said Dr Jaber conducted the post-mortem on Mr Connors and concluded two scalp wounds were caused by sharp and blunt force trauma to the head and neck, which were likely to have been caused by two separate knives.

Jaw fractures were most likely to have been caused by a direct blow to the face, according to Dr Jaber, who found these injuries and "acute alcohol intoxication" were the cause of death, Mr Justice Kearns said.

Under cross-examination, Dr Jaber "firmly disagreed" with the defence's propositions that the scalp wounds could have been self-inflicted having regard to the deceased's history of self-harm, the judge said.

Dr Jaber also disagreed that the jaw fractures could have been sustained in a fall due to blood loss and intoxication and that hypothermia was a causative factor in death.

The trial was adjourned for a few days, during which time Prof Cassidy wrote to the DPP.

In the letter, she stated she was unfamiliar with the Furlong case, despite having instructed that all homicide cases be peer-reviewed.

She said her colleagues, Michael Curtis and Margot Bolster, had since reviewed her own report and shared her concerns.

While all three were in agreement that Mr Connor's injuries are more likely the result of assault, her main concern was Dr Jaber's opinion about the mechanism of death.

Prof Cassidy said he stated there would have been damage to the upper spinal cord although there was no anatomical evidence for this in the post-mortem report.

She also wrote that the report did not include a history or background information to the case and there was no mention of the amount of blood present.

The likelihood of hypothermia also had to been taken into consideration as it was alleged Mr Connors had lain outside, injured, for several hours in low temperatures.

Mr Justice Kearns said the DPP, acting with "complete propriety", disclosed the letter to the defence which, when the trial resumed, accepted it could no longer rely on the evidence of Dr Jaber as to mechanism of death.

Irish Independent

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