Nurse given life for murdering mother on Christmas Eve loses conviction appeal
A 39-year-old nurse sentenced to life in prison for murdering her mother on Christmas Eve has lost an appeal against her conviction.
Greta Dudko admitted killing 55-year-old Anna Butautiene by banging her head against a wall and hitting her over her head with a glass bottle. The Polish native died of blunt force trauma to her head in the home they shared at Station Court Hall, Clonsilla in Dublin.
The Lithuanian mother of one pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to her manslaughter at that address on December 24 2010. The plea was not accepted and she went on trial at the Central Criminal Court where she was found guilty of murder by a majority jury verdict of 11-1.
She was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on October 22, 2014.
The Central Criminal Court heard that Dudko had developed an alcohol problem at the time, and was on a number of medications. She had been suspended from her job at the start of the month due to intoxication at work, where she had previously been regarded as one of the best nurses.
Her trial also heard that she, her child and her mother had moved out of the home they shared with Dudko’s husband just weeks before the murder.
Dudko told detectives that her mother had described her son in law as a beast and encouraged her to leave him.
The deceased had suspected him of being unfaithful to her daughter and Vitalij Dudko admitted in court that she had been correct.
Bringing an appeal against conviction last December, Dudko's barrister, Caroline Biggs SC, said the only issues in the trial were specific intent embracing intoxication and also provocation.
Ms Biggs said the trial judge dealt with the case in an “unfair and unbalanced way”. She said the trial judge “discredited” the defence case with interventions and his charge to the jury was unbalanced.
The trial judge told the jury, after cross examination of a GP on Dudko's state of mind, that he hoped they remembered the evidence they were hearing because they weren't going to hear it repeated in his charge. The trial judge said he would be giving the jury the shortest charge he had given in his 23 years in the Central Criminal Court.
The trial judge went on to say “just remember all the stuff you're getting now”, which wasn't exactly complimentary to the GP's evidence, Ms Biggs said.
Ms Biggs said there seemed to be positive indications throughout the trial that intoxication was of no consequence whatsoever and the trial judge's words could have left the jury with a view that all those questions and answers on intoxication were irrelevant to the defence's case.
Furthermore, Ms Biggs said the suggestion that Dudko had come up with an “incredible” story was prosecution counsel's assessment.
Ms Biggs focused her appeal on the extent and obligation on a trial judge to, firstly, adequately put the defence case to a jury in a fair and balanced manner, to summarise evidence elicited from prosecution witnesses on cross examination, to marshal evidence relevant to issues raised by the defence and the extent to which it is permissible for a trial judge to comment on evidence elicited in cross examination, among other broadly similar issues.
Dismissing the appeal on all grounds today/yesterday(MONDAY), President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court was not disposed to uphold any grounds relating to the trial judge’s charge or interventions during the course of the evidence.
As the Court of Appeal has observed in "many other cases", Mr Justice Carney’s approach was typically a "very non-interventionist one”. He was entitled to make clear at an early stage that intoxication was not a defence, Mr Justice Birmingham said.
That he said he expected his charge to be the shortest that he had ever given was somewhat surprising because, in fact, the charge was not particularly brief and instead followed the usual form.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the Court of Appeal had not been persuaded that the trial judge’s interventions rendered the trial unsatisfactory. His decision not to rehearse the defence's arguments "did not render his charge unfair".
It was submitted that he should have adverted the jury to the possibility of lies being told by someone who had killed as a result of loss of self-control. Mr Justice Birmingham said the failure to do so did not render the charge so unsatisfactory as to lead to a conclusion that the verdict was unsafe.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court had not been persuaded that the trial was unsatisfactory or unfair or that the verdict unsafe.
The appeal was therefore dismissed.
A further issue was raised in respect of the admissibility of photographs of the deceased at the crime scene.
In pressing for the introduction of photos of the deceased, prosecution counsel stressed that it was not for reasons of "prurience" or to provoke an emotional reaction but to assist the jury in considering Dudko's account of a purported fight which involved the deceased falling naturally and without placement onto the bed. Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was satisfied that the photographs were relevant and therefore admissible.
He said the face of the deceased was pixelated in the photos and the issue was handled with as much sensitivity as was possible in the circumstances.