Saturday 17 March 2018

Sister of murderer Marta (30) who loses appeal slams court decision as 'ridiculous'

  • Marta Herda (30) drove a man who loved her into a deep harbour, where he drowned
  • Sentenced to life in prison for murder of Csaba Orsos
  • Sister Monika slams decision: 'We will wait for the Supreme Court'
Marta Herda’s sister, Monika, speaks to the media outside the Court of Appeal in Dublin this morning after her sister lost her appeal against her conviction for murder. Pic Collins Courts.
Marta Herda’s sister, Monika, speaks to the media outside the Court of Appeal in Dublin this morning after her sister lost her appeal against her conviction for murder. Pic Collins Courts.

Ruaidhrí Giblin

The sister of a woman who lost an appeal against her murder conviction has slammed today's judgment as "ridiculous".

Marta Herda (30) drove a man who loved her into a deep harbour, where he drowned.

Today she lost an appeal against her conviction for murder.

Marta Herda, of Pairc Na Saile, Emoclew Road, Arklow, Co Wicklow, knew her passenger could not swim when she drove her Volkswagen Passat through the crash barriers at South Quay, Arklow shortly before 6am on March 26, 2013.

Speaking outside court, Herda's sister Monika said: “I think this was a ridiculous decision.

"Marta had an unfair verdict in my opinion and in the opinion of our family and our friends.

Marta Herda. Photo: Collins Courts
Marta Herda. Photo: Collins Courts

"We are sorry about Csaba but what happened after and now with that verdict is not fair for Marta.

"That's why it's not the end for now. We will wait for the Supreme Court.”

Herda had pleaded not guilty to the murder of 31-year-old Hungarian man Csaba Orsos but a jury at the Central Criminal Court found her guilty and she was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on July 28, 2016.

The Central Criminal Court heard that the Polish waitress escaped through the driver’s window at the harbour but her colleague’s body was found on a nearby beach later that day. A post-mortem exam found that 31-year-old Csaba Orsos died from drowning and not from injuries related to the crash.

Csaba Orsos (left) and Marta Herda (right)
Csaba Orsos (left) and Marta Herda (right)

The trial heard that the handbrake had been applied before the car entered the water and that the only open window was the driver’s.

Herda moved to appeal her conviction on 17 grounds broadly including the issue of recklessness; Whether or not the driving into the river was accidental or deliberate; If it was deliberate, whether “assault manslaughter” was still open to the jury; “Alleged confessions” and the judge's charge to the jury with regard to circumstantial evidence.

However, dismissing her appeal in the three-judge Court of Appeal today/yesterday(THURSDAY), Mr Justice Alan Mahon said all grounds of appeal were rejected.

Herda began sobbing and embraced a number of family members and friends after the judgment was delivered.

Marta Herda’s Letters from Prison.
Marta Herda’s Letters from Prison.

Mr Justice Mahon said Herda was a Polish national who came to live in Ireland at the age of 19. She had a reasonably good, although not perfect, command of the English language, her second language, and she told gardaí that she had a good understanding of English but “might need help with some words”.

Although she did not give evidence herself, her counsel, Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, said Herda asserted at all times that this was a terrible accident, that she did not deliberately drive into the water and that her command of the English language was a matter of great importance.

She claimed to have little or no recollection of events leading up to driving into the water including how the deceased came to be in her car and that aspects of statements made after the incident, and another three to four months later, did not convey information which the prosecution said they did.

Mr Justice Mahon said it was difficult to see how the trial judge's instructions to the jury in relation to murder/manslaughter could have been clearer. He said it was “fanciful” to suggest that driving a car off a harbour pier into deep water at speed was deliberate but at the same time was not intended to kill or cause serious injury to Mr Orsos.

He said the only category of manslaughter that could be relevant to the case was that of gross negligence manslaughter and the trial judge “comprehensively and appropriately” charged the jury in relation to that.

He said it was difficult to identify a single aspect of the defence case which was not referred to by the trial judge in the course of his “lengthy charge”. It was “generously referred to” throughout his charge and in his summary of the evidence there was a reference “in almost every paragraph” to Mr Ó Lideadha's cross examination of various witnesses.

Mr Justice Mahon said the decision to admit the evidence of two nurse witnesses was correct. They were “disinterested witnesses who were persons of integrity”.

Mr Justice Mahon said it was arguable, if not likely, that words attributed by a nurse to Herda to the effect that Mr Orsos did not believe she would drive the car into the water (“he didn't think I would do it”) constituted an admission or an inference that she had done so deliberately.

The same might equally be said of what Herda said to a garda, after formal caution. She said: “I remember I turn and not go for beach. I remember I hit accelerator and I think I have enough of this I have enough of him I can no longer take this. All I see is his angry face and screaming. I know that I drive to water. I could not take it any more.”

Mr Justice Mahon said there was no requirement for a corroboration warning “as the confession evidence (if indeed it amount to such) was not without corroboration”. Firstly, he said both statements were capable of corroborating each other and secondly, additional evidence of corroboration could be found in the speed of the vehicle as it drove through the harbour area and, possibly, the use of the handbrake to brake the vehicle, instead of the foot pedal.

Furthermore, suicide had not been an issue in the course of the trial and, in any event, if the motivation for driving the car was indeed suicide, such could not amount to a defence to a charge of murder in circumstances where the instrument used to achieve that purpose was a motor car in which the deceased was a passenger.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Brendan Grehan SC, said the case “really was crystal clear” and there simply had not been the legal controversies in the trial the defence were now seeking to rely on.

“Marta Herda deliberately drove into the sea,” Mr Grehan said. “The car was used as an instrument of murder. Whether she achieved that with a gun or a sledgehammer doesn't matter.”

He said the car drove straight down a road that was “more like a runway” than a roadway, leading straight down to the docks and to a 200 metre straight stretch of pier.

The car, which could only have been travelling “at great speed”, travelled straight down the road, straight through two barriers and straight into the water.

Mr Grehan said there was no question of carelessness and no suggestion she lost control or skidded or did not see the barriers . There was no sign of any attempted evasive action apart from a 13-and-a-half foot handbrake skid mark which, Mr Ó Lideadha accepts, Mr Grehan said, was probably pulled by Mr Orsos.

He said she knew Mr Orsos had a “mortal fear” of water and of water getting into his ears.

He said Herda made contact with Mr Orsos on the morning in question. She “lured” him into her car and minutes later he's at the bottom of the estuary in Arklow, he said.

“Anything after that was an attempt to explain away the inexplicable.”

Mr Grehan said there was a very short interval – around 15 minutes - between the last of Herda's three phone conversations with Mr Orsos that morning and the moment she was seen running, soaking wet, up the harbour “shouting rape”. During the trial it was noted by Mr Ó Lideadha that there was no suggestion she had been raped.

Mr Grehan said she was “caught out on lies” in terms of the contact she had with Mr Orsos and how he got into her car. Furthermore, she had a “very convenient loss of memory” in terms of how the car ended up in the river.

He said there was a low point in the trial when one of the witnesses who had given evidence of hearing a woman shouting rape was recalled “expressly on Ms Herda's instructions” to “put her character on the stand”.

He said Herda did not give evidence herself but the jury saw “hours and hours” of her garda interviews. The jury could see, he said, what her “use and command” of the English language was. She was very articulate, Mr Grehan said, and it was difficult to write down everything she said because of the “manner of her delivery”.

Her first statement to Gardai taken on the day - when the event was perceived to have been a terrible accident where somebody drowned - Herda gave the impression Mr Orsos was some kind of “stalker” or somebody who was giving her unwanted attention.

In her second statement, she said she knew Mr Orsos to be a "Hungarian gypsy" and that she knew “how they are with women”. They “keep them (women) in one room for a month. I thought he might take me,” she stated.

The whole import of the statement was to cast Mr Orsos as somebody pursuing her and giving her unwanted attention, Mr Grehan said.

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